Defining a Crime Without a Name

Dr. David Nersessian

in Genocide and Political Groups

Published in print July 2010 | ISBN: 9780199588909
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191594557 | DOI:
Defining a Crime Without a Name

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This chapter details the rapid development of genocide from an academic concept to a substantive international crime. It provides a brief overview of the etymology of the term ‘genocide’ following its first usage by Professor Raphael Lemkin in 1944 to describe Nazi atrocities during World War II. It details the early usages of the concept in subsequent criminal trials of Nazi offenders, as well as the definition of genocide in the 1948 Genocide Convention. It also discusses the critical (and controversial) decision of the Convention's drafters to exclude political groups, thereby limiting the Convention to national, ethnic, racial, and religious collectives. Acts intended physically or biologically to destroy these four groups thus are condemned as ‘genocide’, whereas the identical criminal conduct—directed instead at other human collectives—is not.

Keywords: political groups; genocide; Genocide Convention; political genocide; crimes against humanity; Nuremberg; physical genocide; biological genocide; cultural genocide; international criminal law

Chapter.  4034 words. 

Subjects: Human Rights and Immigration

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