What is Genocide?

This article will guide you through the meaning of Genocide, it's legal interpretation and the associated history.
| Thursday, April 16, 2009

Genocide in its very core meaning signifies systematic extermination of a religious or cultural group. Genocide of course talks about extermination in terms of violence. The term "genocide" originates from the Greek word geno which means race or tribe and from the Latin word cide which means killing. The term "genocide" came into existence only after 1944. It was formed by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish lawyer while describing Hitler's Nazi party policies of systematic murder. In, 1945 the International Military Tribunal held at Nuremberg (Germany) charged Hitler's Nazi party with crimes against humanity. They included the term "genocide" in their accusations with a descriptive purview rather than a legal one. The Holocaust period of 1941 to 1945 was primarily responsible for formation of the term "genocide".

Raphael Lemkin's campaigning for the acceptance of international laws regarding prohibition of genocide helped formulate Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the year 1948. The United Nations General Assembly, on 9th December 1948 formally adopted the Convention of the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide. It came into effect on 12th January 1951. It consists of an universally accepted definition of genocide which was inducted into national criminal legislation of many countries.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (in its article 2) defines genocide as:
"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.

Many people feel that the definition of genocide is restrictive and does not take into account more broader perspectives. Some historians and sociologists feel that social and political groups as targets of genocide needed to be defined in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. While there have been and are many people defining genocide in their own views, there are many who still accept that "the systematic killing of a racial or a cultural group" amounts to the crime of genocide.

(The image above shows slave laborers in the Buchenwald concentration camp near Jena; Although technically speaking the Buchenwald concentration camp wasn't an extermination camp but still many people in the camp died as a result of malnutrition. The living conditions in these camps were very harsh and many were made to work to death. Many in-mates in the camp were subject to human experiments by the German Nazi regime; many of these laborers eventually died as a result of the experiments or were disabled for life. )

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