PeaceDevelopmentNetwork's Weblog

Peace, Understanding, Fairness, Development and MDGs


Posted by peacedevelopmentnetwork on January 23, 2010

Cllr. Faizullah Khan:             Genocide

(Paper prepared for February 1st presentation at  ‘Genocide Awareness and Holocaust Commemoration’ Conference)

If a question is asked, “What is common between Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chechnya, Sudan, DR Congo.”  Only perhaps human right activist or some UN official will be able to answer this question. The answer should not surprise you, it is “Genocide”

The term “genocide” did not exist before 1944. It is a very specific term, referring to violent crimes committed against

Cllr. Faizullah Khan laying flowers Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum

groups with the intent to destroy the existence of a certain group.

This only became possible by the efforts of a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin(1900-1959). He sought to describe Nazi policies of systematic murder, including the destruction of the European Jews. He formed the word “genocide” by combining geno-, 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 held at Nuremberg, Germany, 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.” It defines genocide as:

While many cases of group-targeted violence have occurred throughout history and even since the Convention came into effect, the legal and international development of the term  is concentrated into two distinct historical periods: the time from the coining of the term until its acceptance as international law (1944-1948) and the time of its activation with the establishment of international criminal tribunals to prosecute the crime of genocide (1991-1998). Preventing genocide, the other major obligation of the convention, remains a challenge that nations and individuals continue to face.

Resolution 96 (I) 11 December 1946

United Nations considered in its resolution 96 (I) 11 December 1946 that genocide is a crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations and condemned by the civilized world,

Recognizing that at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity, and being convinced that, in order to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge, international co-operation is required,

Hereby agree as hereinafter provided:

Article 1

The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.

Article 2

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

•       (a) Killing members of the group;

•       (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

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

•       (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

•       (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

International Criminal Court logo

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

On 9 December 1948 United nations  General Assembly approved and proposed for signature and ratification or accession resolution 260 A (III) which entered into force on 12 January 1951, in accordance with article XIII. Genocide was a crime now in international law.

The Convention entered into force on January 12, 1951, after more than 20 countries from around the world ratified it.

An International Promise to Prevent and Punish Genocide is Made

Despite facing strong opposition by those who believed it would diminish U.S. sovereignty, President Ronald Reagan signed the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide on November 5, 1988. Among the Convention’s most vocal advocates was Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire, who delivered more than 3,000 speeches before Congress arguing for its passage.

This timeline traces the development


The Crime is Named

Before 1944, no word existed to describe a coordinated assault on civilian populations.


The World Acts to Punish but Not to Halt Atrocities in the Former Yugoslavia

Targeted civilian groups suffered brutal atrocities throughout the conflicts in the former Yugoslav republics of Croatia (1991-95) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-95). Though the international community showed little will to stop the crimes as they were taking place, the UN Security Council did establish the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. It was the first international criminal tribunal since Nuremberg and the first mandated to prosecute the crime of genocide.

Nonetheless, the single worst atrocity to occur in Europe since the Holocaust came two years later. In July 1995, the Bosnian Serb army overran the United Nations declared “safe haven” of Srebrenica. In the following days, they killed some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys. This incident would later be judged to constitute “genocide” by the ICTY. In total, 100,000 people died during the Bosnian conflict; some 80% of the civilians killed were Bosniaks.


Genocide memorial in Nyamata church, Rwanda

After the Genocide Ends, the World Creates a Tribunal for Rwanda

From April through mid-July, at least 500,000 civilians, mostly of the Tutsi minority, were murdered with devastating brutality and speed while the international community looked on. In October, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to include a separate but linked tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, located in Arusha, Tanzania.


The First Conviction for Genocide is Won

On September 2, 1998, The International Criminal tribunal for Rwanda issued the firt conviction for Genocide after a trial, declaring Jean-Paul Akayesu guilty for the acts he engaged in and oversaw as Mayor of Rwandan town of Taba.

The skulls of hundreds of victims rest at Ntarama memorial, one of dozens of churches where Tutsis gathered to seek protection during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. November, 2007. USHMM


A Permanent Court to Prosecute Atrocities against Civilians is Established

Through an international treaty ratified on July 17, 1998, the International Criminal Court was permanently established to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The treaty reconfirmed the definition of genocide found in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It also expanded the definition of crimes against humanity and prohibits these crimes during times of war or peace.

A brief about recent genocide.

DR Congo. Throughout its colonial period and into the present, Congo’s rulers have exploited the country’s vast natural resources for their own profit. Long-serving President Mobutu Sese Seko pitted ethnic groups against each other in an effort to sustain power and violently oppressed opposition.

Sudan. Since independence, Sudan has been dominated by a ruling elite in the capital Khartoum, which has overseen almost constant war in the nation’s peripheral regions. Both the war in the south and the ongoing conflict in Darfur have been characterized by crimes against humanity, with the conflict in Darfur amounting to genocide.

Chechnya In 1944 the entire Chechen population was deported. When the Soviet Union broke apart in the 1990s, a Chechen nationalist independence movement gained momentum. The Russians responded with force.

Bosnia-Herzegovina A history of regional violence was resurrected by new leaders to support nationalist goals. In summer 1995, Bosnian Serb plans to create an ethnically cleansed state culminated in preparations to take the last UN safe havens in eastern Bosnia.

Rwanda, Amid increasing economic and political tensions, and an armed threat from a Tutsi-led rebel group, Hutu extremists prepared to assault the entire Tutsi minority population.

Genocide does not occur spontaneously. While warning signs can vary from case to case, there are common indicators that suggest a growing potential for genocide. Some of these signs can be found within a society’s history. The potential for genocide, however, increases when leaders decide to heighten tensions between groups and make specific plans to use violence.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: