Preventing Current and Future Genocide
2024 will see the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when the Allies began their campaign on the ground in mainland Europe, to help rid the continent of the scourge of Nazism. In the years following the capitualtion of the Third Reich, and the subsequent trials held at Nuremberg to reddress the crimes of some of the principal perpertrators of the Holocaust, a number of measures were enacted by newly formed international bodies in an effort to prevent all such atrocities in future.
The European Court of Human Rights
In 1949 the United Kingdom was instrumental in setting up the Court of Human Rights which sought to establish basic human rights for one and all, chiefly the rights to life and to liberty.
The United Nations
The United Nations formed in June 1945 created the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide Convention in 1948, and today the United Nations Office on Genoicide Prevention and the Responsibiity to Protect is concerned with four interconnected constructs: Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes and Ethnic Cleansing. Significantly, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide declares genocide to be a crime under international law which the signaturees undertake to prevent and to punish.
Awareness of Crimes Against Humanity
What to our growing consciousness today are considered atrocities and crimes against humanity, have been commonplace throughout human history. Events such as slavery, colonisation by European countries of the continents of Africa and Asia, and settler colonialism that displaced indigenous populations throughout the world, have been added to in more recent times by events such as the Armenian Medz Yeghern (Great Crime), in which at least 664,000, and possibly as many as 1.2 million Armenian Christians living in the then Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey), were slaughtered within an eighteen month period between spring of 1915 and autumn 1916, by groups seeking to establish an ethnic Turkish state.
Aftermath of Second World War
The Second World War created unparalleled numbers of deaths, accounting for an estimated 49,374,000+ civilian deaths in addition to the 26,047,000+ military ones. An estimated 6,000,000 Jewish men, women and children were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. To this figure can be added an estimated 15,884,000 civilian deaths alone from a total of some 27,000,000 casualties for the Soviet Union.
The Adoption of the Term Genocide
The term genocide derived from the Greek ‘genos’ (people, tribe or race) and the Latin ‘cide’ (killing) was coined by Polish lawyer and refugee Raphael Lemkin. As a law student in his twenties he had learned about the destruction of the Armenians, leading to his belief there should be an international law against such intentional harm perpetrated by one group on an other. Early attempts by Lemkin in the 1930s to introduce international legal safeguards for ethnic, religious, and social groups proved unsuccessful, and when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939 he fled abroad, finding asylum in the United States. In 1942 he joined the United States War Department as an analyst, and later documented Nazi atrocities in his Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944) in which he introduced the word genocide. Lemkin was later to work on the Nuremberg trials where he tragically learned of the deaths of forty-nine members of his own family, including his parents, at the hands of the Nazis.
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide
Lemkin’s tireless efforts to have the crime of genocide recognised internationally culminated on 9 December 1948 when the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.
The Articles of the Convention
- Article I
- 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.
- Article II
- 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:
- 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.
- Article III
- The following acts shall be punishable:
- Conspiracy to commit genocide;
- Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
- Attempt to commit genocide;
- Complicity in genocide.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
On the day after the introduction of the Convention on Genocide, the General Assembly of the United Nations announced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The declaration lists thirty such rights, the first of which states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
In the decades since the adoption of the convention on genocide, progress in bringing perpetrators of the crime of genocide to justice has been slow, so much so that to date only three instances of mass killings committed since the end of the Second World War have been formally recognised as genocides: these are Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia.