GEOG 128
Geography of International Affairs

Genocide and The International Community

TIME magazine cover showing peole looking at bodies all over the ground. Says this is the beginning of the final days. this is the apocalypse.
Figure 10.3. Time Magazine Cover

A Brief Overview of Genocide

The destruction of ethnic groups has marred the progress of human history almost from its beginnings. There are reports of genocide-like massacres in the writings of the ancient Greeks and in the history of the Middle Ages. Indigenous populations in the Western Hemisphere, Africa, and elsewhere were sometimes slated for elimination by their "discoverers" or their colonizers. But ethnic massacre truly seems to have flourished in the twentieth century. The first great genocide of the era dates to the First World War when hundreds of thousands of Armenians were destroyed despite the protests of Western diplomats who, possibly for the first time, called such killings a "crime against humanity." In the Second World War, after nearly a decade of mounting anti-Semitism, Hitler undertook what he called the "final solution," reminding his generals that "nobody remembers the Armenians."

Churchill called it "the crime without a name," and it was only in 1944 that a Jewish refugee from Poland teaching in the United States, Raphael Lemkin, coined the term genocide in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Lemkin's neologism was rapidly accepted. In 1945, the Nuremberg prosecutors charged genocide in the indictment of Goering, Hess and the others, although the judges of the International Military Tribunal kept with the official terminology used in their statute and described the Nazi atrocities as "crimes against humanity." After the Nuremberg judgment, the UN General Assembly declared genocide an international crime and directed that a treaty aimed at its prevention and punishment be drafted.

Note: The above is excerpted from The Genocide Convention at Fifty by William Schabas of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Teachers should distribute this excerpt to all students.) Source: PBS Frontline

While precise definition varies among genocide scholars, a legal definition is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). Article 2, of this convention 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: 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; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

  • Genocide’s legal definition does not easily allow for empirical and historical research. For this reason, the definition of genocide for research purposes has, in essence, been of two types.
    • One is the definition of genocide as the intention to murder people because of their group membership (race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc…), including also political or economic affiliations.
    • A second definition, which may also be called democide, is any intentional government murder of unarmed and helpless people for whatever reason.

An estimated 800,000 people, in a population of 7 million, were wiped out in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It was one of the worst slaughters in human history. The aim of the Rwandan government officials who encouraged it was to eliminate all Tutsis from the country.

Neither the U.S. government nor governments in Europe did anything to stop the genocide. Only the triumph of an invading Tutsi army three months after the genocide's beginning in April 1994 put a halt to the killing.

mug shots of individuals wanted for genocide
Figure 10.4. Wanted for Genocide poster
Credit: U.S. Department of State

Where was the help?

  • While the genocide was going on, the world sat back and watched.
  • No troops or aide were sent by the Americans or any other country.

What ever happened to “never again”?

After the (Jewish) Holocaust, the world said, ‘Never Again’ and adopted a UN Convention requiring that future genocides be stopped. When genocide happened in Rwanda, the United States along with most other governments simply avoided using the word (genocide). - PBS, The Ghosts of Rwanda