20th Century Genocides

Simon Payaslian

in International Relations

ISBN: 9780199743292
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:
20th Century Genocides

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The scholarship on genocide has grown exponentially since the 1970s. The two general objectives of genocide studies have been to develop more systematic explanations of causes of genocide and a deeper understanding of consequences than previously available in the literature. Genocides in the 20th century are estimated to have cost more than forty million lives. The term “genocide” was coined by Raphael Lemkin (b. 1900–d. 1959), a Polish-Jewish legal scholar, who in reaction to the atrocities taking place during World War II advocated the creation of an international legal instrument to prevent genocide. His efforts led to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (9 December 1948). The convention is legally binding under international law but has become the subject of much heated debate, mostly regarding contending definitions of “genocide.” A consensus has formed among scholars that genocides in the 20th century encompassed (although were not limited to) the following cases: Herero in 1904–1907, the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire in 1915–1923, the Holodomor in the former Soviet Ukraine in 1932–1933, the Jewish Holocaust in 1938–1945, Bangladesh in 1971, Cambodia in 1975–1979, East Timor in 1975–1999, Bosnia in 1991–1995, and Rwanda in 1994. The diversity of subject areas, theories, and methodologies in genocide studies notwithstanding, most work is primarily concerned with the role of the perpetrator state; the nature of leadership; the ability of the leaders to transform ordinary men into murderers and bureaucracies into instruments of murder; and, finally, how to prevent future genocides. Although a small number of scholarly works have also paid attention to followers and bystanders, this area requires more research, as does genocide prevention. Regardless of the paucity of scholarly literature on genocide prevention, the European Union, in cooperation with the government of Hungary, took the significant step of establishing, in 2011, the Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities.

Article.  7957 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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