What is Genocide?

Throughout history, nations have sought to destroy and wipe out members of another ethnic group, religion or nationality. Only in 1944 was the word 'genocide' officially applied. The word comes from Greek and means the killing of a family. It has the same ending as 'suicide' or 'homicide.' The first modern genocide occurred in Europe when some heretics were slaughtered in a religious crusade called the Albigensian Crusade.

The word itself was made up in 1941 by a Polish-German lawyer named Raphael Lemkin. He fled Germany and came to the United States and escaped death at the hands of the Nazis in Germany. He had heard of the horrific killing of Armenians by the Turkish in World War I. He came up with the word 'genocide'. He wanted this word to become a part of international law to describe what Hitler, the German ruler of Germany, did to the Jewish people of Europe in World War II. Hitler and his followers killed six million Jews in Europe because they wanted to 'purify' the German 'race.'

In 1945, after the war, an International Military Tribunal was set up in Nuremberg, Germany to try in court those German leaders, the Nazis, who had been responsible for 'crimes against humanity.' After the trials and the discovery of the extent of the genocide, the United Nations General Assembly made genocide punishable by international law in 1946. In 1948, the United Nations approved the CPPCG, a Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. It defined genocide as 'acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.'

This Convention, which is really a world for rule or policy, went into force in 1951. The United States signed it along with over 130 other countries. However, it didn't ratify it until 1988 when President Ronald Reagan signed it. Throughout the 1970's, the law was not put into use, however, when the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia killed 1.7 million people from 1975-1979. In 1992, the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence from the country of Yugoslavia. By 1995, the Bosnians had killed about 100,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croatians. It was the worst act of genocide since World War II. In 1993, the United Nations Security Council set up a tribunal, or court, for trying people for the crime of genocide in Yugoslavia.

From April-July 1994, the Hutu tribe in Rwanda, who was the majority, killed 500,000-800,000 people. The people were members of the Tutsi tribe. The other countries of the world didn't do much to stop this while the killing was occurring. However, in the fall of 1994, the United Nations set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The courts in Yugoslavia and Rwanda helped to make clear what types of acts would be called genocide. They also determined how responsibility for these crimes should be determined. In 1998, they said that mass rape is a crime of genocide. The tribunal convicted the mayor of the Rwandan town of Taba of genocide.

The ICC, International Criminal Court, was set up in 1998 also. It meets in The Hague, Netherlands. Beginning in 2002, the court has met in The Hague, without the United States, China, or Russia. This court has taken up the matters of mass killings in Sudan and the Congo. In 2007, the Janjawid military group committed horrific acts against civilians in the western parts of Darfur. Colin Powell, former U. S. Secretary of State, and other world officials have condemned these acts as genocide.

Debate continues about just what a genocidal act is and what the jurisdiction of the countries of the world over such acts of genocide is. However, the world is beginning to come to an agreement about how to prevent and punish such acts.

A: 1937
B: 1941
C: 1982
D: 1948

A: Paris
B: Washington, D. C.
C: The Hague
D: Madrid

A: Colin Powell
B: Adolph Hitler
C: Raphael Lemkin
D: Rudolph Werner

A: London
B: Paris
C: Berlin
D: Nuremberg

A: Taba
B: Cairo
C: Cape Town
D: Darfur

A: Vietnam
B: Japan
C: Cambodia
D: China

To link to this What is Genocide? page, copy the following code to your site: