Mass crimes against humanity and genocides
Definitions of the term "genocide."
Conventions on genocide
Meaning of the term "Genocide:"
"Genocide" was derived from:
||"genos," which is Greek for "race"
||"cide," which is Latin for "killing."
It has been defined as the "systematic destruction by a government of a racial, religious, or ethnic group."
Early history of the term:
In 1933, Jurist Raphael Lemkin submitted a proposal the International
Conference for Unification of Criminal Law that would have made the
destruction of racial, religious or social groups a crime under international
law. Lemkin is believed to have been the first person to use of the term
"genocide" in 1944. At that time, he was a
refugee from Nazi Germany, and had written a book about the Nazi Holocaust. 2
The United Nations' resolution of 1946:
The Nazi Holocaust of Jews, Roma (a.k.a. Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses,
homosexuals and other groups in the early 1940s prompted the United
Nations' General Assembly to pass a resolution on 1946-DEC-12 to combat
future genocides. It defined the term "genocide" in its preamble.
The full text of the resolution is:
"Genocide is a denial of the right of existence of entire human
groups, as homicide is the denial of the right to live of individual human
beings; such denial of the right of existence shocks the conscience of
mankind, results in great losses to humanity in the form of cultural and
other contributions represented by these human groups, and is contrary to
moral law and to the spirit and aims of the United Nations.
Many instances of such crimes of genocide have occurred when racial,
religious, political, and other groups have been destroyed, entirely or in
The punishment of the crime of genocide is a matter of international
The General Assembly, therefore,
Affirms that genocide is a crime under international law which the
civilized world condemns, and for the commission of which principals and
accomplices - whether private individuals, public officials or
statesmen, and whether the crime is committed on religious, racial,
political or any other grounds --are punishable;
Invites the Member States to enact the necessary legislation for
the prevention and punishment of this crime;
Recommends that international co-operation be organized between
States with a view to facilitating the speedy prevention and punishment
of the crime of genocide, and, to this end,
Requests the Economic and Social Council to undertake the
necessary studies, with a view to drawing up a draft convention on the
crime of genocide to be submitted to the next regular session of the
General Assembly." 3
The UN Economic and Social Council crafted the a convention on
Genocide, which is described below.
The United Nations Genocide convention of 1948
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide (UNCG) was approved by the General Assembly resolution 260 A (III).
The preamble to the convention noted that that: "...Genocide is a
crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United
Nations, and condemned by the civilized world."
The first three articles state:
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. "|
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:
||(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."
The following acts shall be punishable:
||(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
||(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
||(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
||(e) Complicity in genocide."
A major deficiency in this convention is that it deals primarily with
preventing the systematic murder of groups of people, as in the Nazi
Holocaust. The convention would not cover the many instances where
governments have destroyed, or attempted to destroy, the culture of a group,
while allowing its members to survive. Consider:
||The oppression of Buddhists in Tibet by the government of China.
||The destruction of the culture of indigenous tribes in Brazil,
Paraguay, other South American countries, and Australia.
||Past attempts to destroy the culture of Native peoples by the federal
governments of the U.S. and Canada.
||The ongoing destruction of the culture of the Innu, the aboriginal
people in northeastern Quebec and Labrador, Canada.
Implementation of the Convention:
Dates concerning the Convention of significance to North Americans are:
It took four decades to ratify the convention. By that time, 95 other
nations had already done so.
However, the U.S. government drastically weakened the effect of the
convention by refusing to accept its Article IX. Consent
from the U.S. government is required before a dispute can be referred to the
International Court of Justice.
Dr. William Korey, director for international policy research for
B'nai B'rith International, wrote about the struggle to get the treaty
ratified. Part of the problem focused on the treaty's reference to genocide
"in whole or in part." Korey wrote: "Fears were apparent in
various segregationist circles that the reference to 'in part' might be
applied to a limited form of race violence, such as lynchings."
7 According to the Associated Press, "The phrase 'mental harm'
also raised concerns. Other critics said the United States might be
embarrassed by an international show trial based on alleged
atrocities against American Indians in the 19th
Applications of the Genocide Convention in North America:
There does not seem to have been been a charge to date made against an
alleged North American perpetrator, either under the U.N. Convention or the
U.S. federal Proxmire Act.
We are aware of only a few instances in North America during the decade
where individuals appear to have violated this convention. None have
actually committed genocide. However, they may be interpreted as violating
Article 3 (b) of the Proxmire Act by having incited others to commit
||There have been two instances where conservative Christian clergy have
been reported as advocating the extermination of Wiccans in the U.S. These
were separate, unrelated events. One Baptist minister recommended that the
U.S. Army napalm Wiccans.
||There are a few conservative Christian groups in the U.S. who
advocate the biblical standard in
Leviticus 20:13 which calls for the death penalty
of sexually active gays and lesbians. This would be a tough case to
prosecute under the Proxmire Act because it is restricted
to cases involving actual genocide against a "national, ethnic, racial, or
religious group." Gays and lesbians do not neatly fit into any of
those categories. Trying to convince a court that homosexuals form an
ethnic group would be a stretch.
"Genocide," at: http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/
Raphael Lemkin, "Axis Rule in Occupied Europe," (1944),
"United National General Assembly Resolution, 1946: 96 (I). The
Crime of Genocide," at:
"Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide," UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, at:
Lawrence Knutson, "Reagan Signature on Ratification Ends 40-Year
Battle," Associated Press, 1988-NOV-5, at:
Sharon Johnston, "The Genocide of Native Americans: A
sociological view," at:
S.D. Stein, "Genocide: Definitions and Controversies," at:
Rony Blum et al., " 'Ethnic cleansing' bleaches the atrocities of genocide,"
The European Journal of Public Health, 2007-MAY-18. Abstract available at:
Copyright © 2001 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2001-JAN-1
Latest update: 2006-AUG-06
Author: B.A. Robinson