Much criticism has been levelled at the definition of genocide since the Convention was ratified, particularly with regard to the restrictive definition of victim groups. For example, by definition, the murder of social, cultural and political groups is not a crime of genocide. Many social and political scientists have therefore created different terms to describe the mass murder of different groups.
‘Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.’ – Primo Levi1
As a rule, four groups are always involved in genocide: the perpetrators, the victims, the bystanders and the rescuers.
Photo: Thomas Matthias
The scientific understanding of genocide is mostly based on the Holocaust model: mass murder, concentration camps and the immediate and violent destruction of the victim group. But there is also a kind of genocide that lasts for decades or even generations. We are talking about cultural genocide. The victims are slowly and apparently imperceptibly wiped out by destroying their livelihoods, banning the practice of their culture, language and religion and depriving them of the means to feed themselves and to administer their affairs.
Photo: Survival International / starved Aché-Indian, shortly after she was captured and brought out of the forest into the ‘reserve’, Paraguay 1972
Genocide and crimes against humanity are two concepts in international law; created in response to the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis against the European Jewry. Hersch Lauterpacht shaped the concept of ‘crimes against humanity’ and Raphael Lemkin coined the term ‘genocide’. But what is the difference between these two?
Over the last few weeks and months, we have witnessed a strong resurgence of the term ‘genocide’ in current political discussion. Right-wing populists and extremists caution that the current refugee crisis is a ‘White Genocide’.
by Corinna Krauß and Matthias Winkler
Ever since the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG)’s ratification, the UN’s definition of it as legal precedent has been met with a substantial amount of criticism due mostly to the restrictive way in which the victim groups are defined. You can find the article about the genocide definition here.
Foto: Thomas Matthias
(Greek: genós – race, people/ lat.: caedere – to kill)
The word genocide is derived from the Greek genós (race, people) and the Latin caedere (to kill). It was coined in 1944 by the Polish-Jewish lawyer Raffael Lemkin in his book ‘Axis Rule in Occupied Europe”. In his book, he states his fear that there was no established law that could be cited to punish those responsible for the massacre of the Armenians during the First World War. He describes his shock at the fact that an entire nation of people was murdered, whilst the people responsible were essentially exonerated. Why should the murder of millions of people be regarded as ‘less grievous’ than the murder of one individual?1
The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ has become commonly associated with the war and subsequent collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Ethnic cleansing is mostly the desire for the forceful removal or destruction of one particular ethnic group in a geographical area. There is some overlap between the terms ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’, and it is often difficult to distinguish between them due to the level of violence and procedures being similar in both.
Photo: Thomas Matthias
“Genocide is not the predictable end product of a clearly worked out plan but a contingent outcome of a complex set of social and political process.”1
A genocide doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that consists of several phases. These phases are predictable but not unstoppable. Measures to prevent the spread of a genocide can be taken at any given point in time.
Even though this article contains a list of 10 phases, there is not always a linear progression between them; some phases overlap and the transitions between them are often fluent.
The following text has been adapted from the work of the president of Genocide Watch, Gregory H. Stanton.