Christine Byron

in International Law

ISBN: 9780199796953
Published online March 2012 | | DOI:

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Genocide has been called the “crime of crimes” and the gravest violation of human rights it is possible to commit. It was developed as an international crime in reaction to the Nazi Holocaust and intended to provide for the prosecution of those who sought to destroy entire human groups. The word “genocide” was coined by a Polish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944) to provide a legal concept for this unimaginable atrocity. The word is a hybrid of the Greek word genos, meaning race, nation, or tribe, and the Latin suffix cide, meaning killing. Although genocide is often spoken of in the same breath as war crimes and crimes against humanity, it is not the same thing. War crimes refer to violations of the law of armed conflict, while crimes against humanity, of which genocide is often seen as a more serious subset, require a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population. Unlike war crimes, the crime of genocide does not have to take place during an armed conflict (although it often does), and unlike crimes against humanity, it may also be perpetrated against soldiers or prisoners of war from the targeted group (if it happens to take place during an armed conflict). Additionally, crimes against humanity do not have to be perpetrated against a specific human group, as is the case with genocide, but simply against a civilian population. While the concept of genocide was developed after World War II, it is unfortunately true that the mass killing of human groups is much older than the legal expression; indeed, the first genocide of the 20th century is widely thought to have been the German genocide of the Herero and Nama in German South West Africa (modern-day Namibia) between 1904 and 1907. The Genocide Convention of 1948 (officially the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide) declared that “genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they, the contracting parties, undertake to prevent and to punish.” Nevertheless, the real development of systematic international trials and punishment for the crime of genocide waited for the end of the 20th century: the ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the inclusion of the crime of genocide in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Article.  15131 words. 

Subjects: International Law ; International Courts and Tribunals ; Private International Law and Conflict of Laws ; Public International Law

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