What is genocide?

Gravestones at the Potočari genocide memorial near Srebrenica, Bosnia (2009). Photo credit: Michael Büker 

The term genocide was created in 1944 by a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin. It refers to the destruction of a specific group, in whole or in part, because of that group’s national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.

In December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which established genocide as a crime under international law. The convention set out five activities which, individually or together, could constitute genocide:

  • 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 convention also made clear that the attempt to commit genocide, as well as incitement and complicity in crimes, were punishable under the convention. There have been many other genocides since 1945.

 

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