What is Genocide?

Genocidal acts need not kill or cause the death of members of a group. Causing serious bodily or mental harm, prevention of births and transfer of children are acts of genocide when committed as part of a policy to destroy a group’s existence. It is a crime to plan or incite genocide, even before killing starts, and to aid or abet genocide: Criminal acts include conspiracy, direct and public incitement, attempts to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide.

The crime of genocide is defined in international law in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

“Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical,racial or religious group, as such:

Killing members of the group;

·        Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

·        Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

·        Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

·        Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

·        Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

·        Genocide;

·        Conspiracy to commit genocide;

·        Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

·        Attempt to commit genocide;

·        Complicity in genocide.

The Genocide Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948. The Convention entered into force on 12 January 1951. More than 130 nations have ratified the Genocide Convention and over 70 nations have made provisions for the punishment of genocide in domestic criminal law. The text of Article II of the Genocide Convention was included as a crime in Article 6 of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Punishable Acts

The following are genocidal acts when committed as part of a policy to destroy a group’s existence:

·        Killing members of the group includes direct killing and actions causing death.

·        Causing serious bodily or mental harm includes inflicting trauma on members of the group through widespread torture, rape, sexual violence, forced or coerced use of drugs, and mutilation.

·        Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy a group includes the deliberate deprivation of resources needed for the group’s physical survival, such as clean water, food, clothing,shelter or medical services. Deprivation of the means to sustain life can be imposed through confiscation of harvests, blockade of foodstuffs, detention in camps, forcible relocation or expulsion into deserts. Prevention of births includes involuntary sterilization, forced abortion, prohibition of marriage, and long-term separation of men and women intended to prevent procreation.

·        Forcible transfer of children may be imposed by direct force or through fear of violence,duress, detention, psychological oppression or other methods of coercion. The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines children as persons under the age of 14 years.

Key Terms

The crime of genocide has two elements: intent and action. “Intentional” means purposeful. Intent can be proven directly from statements or orders. But more often, it must be inferred from a systematic pattern of coordinated acts.

Intent is different from motive: whatever the motive for the crime may be, (land expropriation, national security,territorial integrity, etc.), if the perpetrators commit acts intended to destroy a group, even part of a group, it is genocide.

The phrase “in whole or in part” is important. Perpetrators need not intend to destroy the entire group. Destruction of only part of a group (such as its educated members, or members living in one region) is also genocide. Most authorities require intent to destroy a substantial number of group members – mass murder.But an individual criminal may be guilty of genocide even if he kills only one person, so long as he knew he was participating in a larger plan to destroy the group.

The law protects four groups - national, ethnical, racial or religious groups:

·        A national group means a set of individuals whose identity is defined by a common country of nationality or national origin.

·        An ethnical group is a set of individuals whose identity is defined by common cultural traditions, language or heritage.

·        A racial group means a set of individuals whose identity is defined by physical characteristics.

·        A religious group is a set of individuals whose identity is defined by common religious creeds, beliefs, doctrines,practices, or rituals.

Origin of the term

The term “genocide” did not exist before 1944. It is a very specific term, referring to violent crimes committed against groups with the intent to destroy the existence of the group. Human rights, as laid out in the U.S. Bill of Rights or the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, concern the rights of individuals.

In 1944, a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959)sought to describe Nazi policies of systematic murder, including the destruction of European Jews. He coined the word “genocide” by combining “genos”, from the Greek word for race or tribe, with “-cide,” from the Latin word for killing. In proposing this new term, Lemkin had in mind “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.” The next year, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg charged top Nazis with“crimes against humanity.” The word “genocide” was included in the indictment,but as a descriptive, not legal, term.

On December 9, 1948, in the shadow of the Holocaust and in no small part due to the tireless efforts of Lemkin himself, the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This convention establishes “genocide” as an international crime,which signatory nations “undertake to prevent and punish.”

Ten Stages of Genocide

By Gregory H. Stanton

Stage 1: CLASSIFICATION: All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them” by ethnicity, race,religion, or nationality: German and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi. Bipolar societies that lack mixed categories, such as Rwanda and Burundi, are the most likely to have genocide.

Stage 2: SYMBOLIZATION: We give names or other symbols to the classifications. We name people “Jews” or “Gypsies”, or distinguish them by colors or dress; and apply the symbols to members of groups. Classification and symbolization are universally human and do not necessarily result in genocide unless they lead to the next stage, dehumanization. When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups: the yellow star for Jews under Nazi rule, the blue scarf for people from the Eastern Zone in Khmer Rouge Cambodia.

Stage 3: DISCRIMINATION: A dominant group uses law,custom, and political power to deny the rights of other groups. The powerless group may not be accorded full civil rights, voting rights, or even citizenship. The dominant group is driven by an exclusionary ideology that would deprive less powerful groups of their rights. The ideology advocates monopolization or expansion of power by the dominant group. It legitimizes the victimization of weaker groups. Advocates of exclusionary ideologies are often charismatic, expressing resentments of their followers, attracting support from the masses. Examples include the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 in Nazi Germany, which stripped Jews of their German citizenship, and prohibited their employment by the government and by universities. Denial of citizenship to the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma is a current example.

Stage 4: DEHUMANIZATION: One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to vilify the victim group. In combating this dehumanization, incitement to genocide should not be confused with protected speech. Genocidal societies lack constitutional protection for countervailing speech, and should be treated differently than democracies.

Stage 5: ORGANIZATION: Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility (the Janjaweed in Darfur.) Sometimes organization is informal (Hindu mobs led by local RSS militants) or decentralized (terrorist groups.) Special army units or militias are often trained and armed. Plans are made for genocidal killings.

Stage 6: POLARIZATION: Extremists drive the groups apart. Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda. Laws may forbid intermarriage or social interaction.Extremist terrorism targets moderates, intimidating and silencing the center.Moderates from the perpetrators’ own group are most able to stop genocide, so are the first to be arrested and killed.

Stage 7: PREPARATION: Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. Members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is expropriated. They are often segregated into ghettos, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved.

Stage 8: PERSECUTION: Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. In state sponsored genocide, members of victim groups may be forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is often expropriated. Sometimes they are even segregated into ghettos, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. They are deliberately deprived of resources such as water or food in order to slowly destroy them. Programs are implemented to prevent procreation through forced sterilization or abortions. Children are forcibly taken from their parents.  The victim group’s basic human rights become systematically abused through extrajudicial killings, torture and forced displacement.  Genocidal massacres begin.They are acts of genocide because they intentionally destroy part of a group.The perpetrators watch for whether such massacres meet any international reaction. If not, they realize that that the international community will again be bystanders and permit another genocide.

Stage 9: EXTERMINATION: Begins, and quickly becomes the mass killing legally called“genocide.” It is “ex-termination” to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human. When it is sponsored by the state, the armed forces often work with militias to do the killing. Sometimes the genocide results in revenge killings by groups against each other, creating the downward whirlpool-like cycle of bilateral genocide (as in Burundi).

Stage 10: DENIAL: Is the eighth stage that always follows a genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile. There they remain with impunity, like Pol Pot or Idi Amin, unless they are captured and a tribunal is established to try them.

Ten Stages of Genocide: Preventative Measures

1. CLASSIFICATION: The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop universalistic institutions that transcend ethnic or racial divisions, that actively promote tolerance and understanding, and that promote classifications that transcend the divisions. The Catholic Church could have played this role in Rwanda, had it not been riven by the same ethnic cleavages as Rwandan society. Promotion of a common language in countries like Tanzania has also promoted transcendent national identity. This search for common ground is vital to early prevention of genocide.

2. SYMBOLIZATION: To combat symbolization, hate symbols can be legally forbidden (swastikas) as can hate speech. Group marking like gang clothing or tribal scarring can be outlawed, as well. The problem is that legal limitations will fail if unsupported by popular cultural enforcement. Though Hutu and Tutsi were forbidden words in Burundi until the 1980’s, code words replaced them. If widely supported, however, denial of symbolization can be powerful, as it was in Bulgaria, where the government refused to supply enough yellow badges and at least eighty percent of Jews did not wear them, depriving the yellow star of its significance as a Nazi symbol for Jews.

3. DISCRIMINATION:  Prevention against discrimination means full political empowerment and citizenship rights for all groups in a society.Discrimination on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, race or religion should be outlawed. Individuals should have the right to sue the state, corporations,and other individuals if their rights are violated.

4. DEHUMANIZATION: Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen. Hate radio stations should be shut down, and hate propaganda banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished.

5.  ORGANIZATION: To combat this stage, membership in these militias should be outlawed. Their leaders should be denied visas for foreign travel. The U.N. should impose arms embargoes on governments and citizens of countries involved in genocidal massacres, and create commissions to investigate violations, as was done in post-genocide Rwanda.

6. POLARIZATION: Prevention may mean security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups. Assets of extremists may be seized, and visas for international travel denied to them. Coups d’état by extremists should be opposed by international sanctions.

7. PREPARATION: At this stage, a Genocide Emergency must be declared. If the political will of the great powers, regional alliances, or the U.N. Security Council can be mobilized, armed international intervention should be prepared, or heavy assistance provided to the victim group to prepare for its self-defense.Otherwise, at least humanitarian assistance should be organized by the U.N. and private relief groups for the inevitable tide of refugees to come.

8. PERSECUTION: At this stage, a Genocide Emergency must be declared. If the political will of the great powers, regional alliances, or U.N. Security Council or the U.N. General Assembly can be mobilized, armed international intervention should be prepared, or heavy assistance provided to the victim group to prepare for its self-defense.Humanitarian assistance should be organized by the U.N. and private relief groups for the inevitable tide of refugees to come.

9. EXTERMINATION: At this stage, only rapid and overwhelming armed intervention can stop genocide. Real safe areas or refugee escape corridors should be established with heavily armed international protection. (An unsafe “safe” area is worse than none at all.) The U.N. Standing High Readiness Brigade, EU Rapid Response Force, or regional forces -- should be authorized to act by the U.N. Security Council if the genocide is small. For larger interventions, a multilateral force authorized by the U.N. should intervene. If the U.N. is paralyzed, regional alliances must act. It is time to recognize that the international responsibility to protect transcends the narrow interests of individual nation states. If strong nations will not provide troops to intervene directly, they should provide the airlift, equipment, and financial means necessary for regional states to intervene.

10. DENIAL: The response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts. There the evidence can be heard, and the perpetrators punished.Tribunals like the Yugoslav or Rwanda Tribunals, or an international tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or an International Criminal Court may not deter the worst genocidal killers. But with the political will to arrest and prosecute them, some may be brought to justice.

Genocide in the 20th and 21st Centuries: A Timeline

This is a timeline noting the major conceptual and legal advances in the development of “genocide.” It does not attempt to detail all cases that might be considered as genocides, but rather how the term became a part of the political, legal and ethical vocabulary of responding to widespread threats of violence against groups. It also does not get into details of more recent cases of alleged genocide, as the trials against the accused can take years, even decades, to be formally resolved.

Raphael Lempkin

Raphael Lemkin, who would later coin the word “genocide,” was born into a Polish Jewish family in 1900. His memoirs detailed early exposure to the history of Ottoman attacks against Armenians (today widely recognized as a genocide), antisemitic pogroms, and other histories of group-targeted violence as key to forming his beliefs about the need for legal protection of groups.

         

Rise of Adolf Hitler

With the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor on January 30, 1933, in Germany’s democratically elected government, the Nazi Party took control of the country. In October, German delegates walked out of disarmament talks in Geneva and Nazi Germany withdrew from the League of Nations. In October, at an international legal conference in Madrid, Raphael Lemkin (who later coined the word “genocide”) proposed legal measures to protect groups.His proposal did not receive support.

The Second World War

The Second World War began on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland triggering a treaty-mandated Anglo-French declaration of war on Germany. On September 17, 1939, the Soviet army occupied the eastern half of Poland. Lemkin fled Poland, escaping across the Soviet Union and eventually arriving in the United States.

A Crime Without a Name

On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. As the German forces advanced further east, SS, police, and military personnel carried out atrocities that moved British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to state in August 1941: “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.” In December 1941, the United States entered the Second World War on the side of the Allied forces. Lemkin, who arrived in the United States as a refugee in 1941, had heard of Churchill’s speech and later claimed that his introduction of the word“genocide” was in part a response to Churchill’s statement.

“Genocide”Coined

Nazi leadership embarked on a variety of population policies aimed at restructuring the ethnic composition of Europe by force, using mass murder as a tool. Included among these policies and involving mass murder were the attempt to murder all European Jews, which we now refer to as the Holocaust,the attempt to murder most of the Gypsy population of Europe, and the attempt to physically liquidate the leadership classes of Poland and the former Soviet Union. Also included in these policies were numerous smaller scale resettlement policies involving the use of brutal force and murder that we now refer to as a form of ethnic cleansing. In 1944, Raphael Lemkin, who had moved to Washington, D.C. and worked with the U.S. War Department, coined the word“genocide” in his text Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. This text documented patterns of destruction and occupation throughout Nazi-held territories.

End of the Second World War

Germany surrendered on May 7 and Japan on September 2. 6 million Jews were murdered in ghettos, concentration camps and death camps during the most documented and systematic genocide in history - the Holocaust. Approximately 5 million non-Jewish civilians were murdered by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. Victim groups included: Gypsies, Serbs, Polish intelligentsia, resistance fighters from all the nations, German opponents of Nazism, homosexuals,Jehovah’s Witnesses, habitual criminals, and the “anti-social,” e.g. beggars,vagrants, and hawkers.

International Military Tribunal

Between November 20, 1945, and October 1, 1946, the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg tried 22 major Nazi German leaders on charges of crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity and conspiracy to commit each of these crimes. It was the first time that international tribunals were used as a post-war mechanism for bringing national leaders to justice. The word “genocide” was included in the indictment, but as a descriptive, not legal, term.

Creating an International Convention on Genocide

Raphael Lemkin was a critical force for bringing “genocide” before the nascent United Nations, where delegates from around the world debated the terms of an international law on genocide. On December 8, 1948, the final text was adopted unanimously. The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide entered into force on January 12, 1951, after more than 20 countries from around the world ratified it.

The Cold War

Massive crimes against civilian populations were all too common in the years after the Second World War and throughout the Cold War. Whether these situations constituted “genocide” was scarcely considered by the countries that had undertaken to prevent and punish that crime by joining the Genocide Convention.

Ratifying the Genocide Convention

Canada signed the UN’s Declaration on the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) on November 28, 1949 and was internally ratified on September 3, 1952. It is worth noting that Canada’s delegates, along with the U.S., successfully initiated the appeal to scrap mention of “cultural genocide” in this formative document. This move has been criticized in more recent years during Canada’s ongoing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Wars of the Former Yugoslavia

The wars of the former Yugoslavia were marked by massive war crimes and crimes against humanity. The conflict in Bosnia (1992- 1995),brought some of the harshest fighting and worst massacres to Europe since the Second World War. In one small town called Srebrenica, Serbian forces murdered 7,800 Bosnjiak men and boys.

Resolution 827

In response to the atrocities occurring in Bosnia, the United Nations Security Council issued resolution 827, establishing the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. It was the first international criminal tribunal since Nuremberg. Crimes the ICTY can prosecute and try are: grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, violations of the laws or customs of war, genocide, and crimes against humanity. Its jurisdiction is limited to crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

Genocide in Rwanda

From April until July, up to 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi minority group, were killed in Rwanda. It was killing on a devastating scale,scope, and speed. In October, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the ICTY to include a separate but linked tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Arusha, Tanzania.

First Conviction for Genocide

On September 2, 1998, the ICTR issued the world’s first conviction for genocide in an international tribunal when Jean-Paul Akayesu was judged guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for acts he engaged in and oversaw as mayor of the Rwandan town of Taba. While these tribunals and the emerging International Criminal Court help establish legal precedents and investigate crimes within their jurisdictions, punishment of genocide remains a difficult task. Even more difficult is the continuing challenge to prevent genocide.

Genocide in Darfur

For the first time in U.S. government history, an on-going crisis is referred to as a “genocide.” On September 9, 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee “We concluded —I concluded — that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility — and that genocide may still be occurring.”

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