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Genocide: Armenian, Rwandan, Cambodian, and the Holocaust

What is Genocide?

"On December 9, 1948, in the shadow of the Holocaust, 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.” It defines genocide as:

[A]ny of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group such as:

❖ 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.

The specific “intent to destroy” particular groups is unique to genocide. A closely related category of international law, crimes against humanity, is defined as widespread or systematic attacks against civilians.'

(from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Where did the term "Genocide" Originate"?

"The destruction of ethnic groups has marred the progress of human history almost from its beginnings. There are reports of genocide-like massacres in the writings of the ancient Greeks and in the history of the Middle Ages. Indigenous populations in the Western Hemisphere, Africa, and elsewhere were sometimes slated for elimination by their "discoverers" or their colonizers. But ethnic massacre truly seems to have flourished in the twentieth century. The first great genocide of the era dates to the First World War when hundreds of thousands of Armenians were destroyed despite the protests of Western diplomats who, possibly for the first time, called such killings a "crime against humanity." In the Second World War, after nearly a decade of mounting anti-Semitism, Hitler undertook what he called the "final solution," reminding his generals that "nobody remembers the Armenians."

Churchill called it "the crime without a name," and it was only in 1944 that a Jewish refugee from Poland teaching in the United States, Raphael Lemkin, coined the term genocide in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Lemkin's neologism was rapidly accepted. In 1945, the Nuremberg prosecutors charged genocide in the indictment of Goering, Hess and the others, although the judges of the International Military Tribunal kept with the official terminology used in their statute and described the Nazi atrocities as "crimes against humanity." After the Nuremberg judgment, the UN General Assembly declared genocide an international crime and directed that a treaty aimed at its prevention and punishment be drafted."

- Excerpted from The Genocide Convention at Fifty by William Schabas of the U.S. Institute of Peace

Guide Overview

This guide offers library resources and websites for the