Genocide

Genocide is intentional action to destroy a people (usually defined as an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group) in whole or in part. The hybrid word "genocide" is a combination of the Greek word γένος ("race, people") and the Latin suffix -caedo ("act of killing").[1] The term genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe.[2][3]

The United Nations Genocide Convention, which was established in 1948, defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such" including the killing of its members, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately imposing living conditions that seek to "bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part", preventing births, or forcibly transferring children out of the group to another group.[4][5][6]

The term has been coined and applied to the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide and many other mass killings including the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas, the Greek genocide, the Assyrian genocide, the Serbian genocide, the Holodomor, the Indonesian genocide,[7] the Guatemalan genocide, the 1971 Bangladesh genocide, the Cambodian genocide, and after 1980 the Bosnian genocide, the Anfal genocide, the Darfur genocide, the Rwandan genocide and the Rohingya genocide. Others are listed in Genocides in history and List of genocides by death toll.

The Political Instability Task Force estimated that, between 1956 and 2016, a total of 43 genocides took place, causing the death of about 50 million people[8]. The UNHCR estimated that a further 50 million had been displaced by such episodes of violence up to 2008.[8]

Origin of the term

Before 1944, various terms, including "massacre," "extermination,"[9] and "crimes against humanity" were used to describe the intentional systematic killings. In 1941, Winston Churchill, when describing the German invasion of the Soviet Union, spoke of "a crime without a name".[10]

In 1944, Raphael Lemkin created the term genocide in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. The book describes the implementation of Nazi policies in occupied Europe, and cites earlier mass killings.[11] The term described the systematic destruction of a nation or people,[12] and the word was quickly adopted by many in the international community. The word genocide is the combination of the Greek prefix geno- (γένος, meaning 'race' or 'people') and caedere (the Latin word for "to kill").[13] The word genocide was used in indictments at the Nuremberg trials, held from 1945, but solely as a descriptive term, not yet as a formal legal term.[14] The so called Polish Genocide Trials of Arthur Greiser and Amon Leopold Goth in 1946 were the first trials in which judgments included the term genocide.[15]

According to Lemkin, genocide was "a coordinated strategy to destroy a group of people, a process that could be accomplished through total annihilation as well as strategies that eliminate key elements of the group's basic existence, including language, culture, and economic infrastructure". Lemkin defined genocide as follows:

Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify 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 objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.[13]

The preamble to the 1948 Genocide Convention (CPPCG) notes that instances of genocide have taken place throughout history.[16] But it was not until Lemkin coined the term and the prosecution of perpetrators of the Holocaust at the Nuremberg trials that the United Nations defined the crime of genocide under international law in the Genocide Convention.[17]

Lemkin's lifelong interest in the mass murder of populations in the 20th century was initially in response to the killing of Armenians in 1915[18][2][19] and later to the mass murders in Nazi-controlled Europe.[3] He referred to the Albigensian Crusade as "one of the most conclusive cases of genocide in religious history".[20] He dedicated his life to mobilizing the international community, to work together to prevent the occurrence of such events.[21] In a 1949 interview, Lemkin said "I became interested in genocide because it happened so many times. It happened to the Armenians, then after the Armenians, Hitler took action."[22]