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Genocide is the systematic destruction of all or a significant part of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group via the (a) Killing of members of the group; (b) Causing of serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberate inflicting on the group's conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing of measures intended to prevent births within the group; or (e) Forcible transferring of children of the group to another group. Genocide entails also the Conspiracy to commit genocide; Direct and public incitement to commit genocide; Attempt to commit genocide; and Complicity in genocide. . What constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars. While a precise definition varies among genocide scholars, a legal definition is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). Article 2 of this convention defines genocide as "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; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
There was a gap of more than forty years between the CPPCG coming into force and the first prosecution under the provisions of the treaty. To date all international prosecutions of genocide, the Rwandan Genocide and the Srebrenica Genocide, have been by ad hoc international tribunals. The International Criminal Court came into existence in 2002 and it has the authority to try people from the states that have signed the treaty, but to date it has not tried anyone.
Since the CPPCG came into effect in January 1951 about 80 member states of the United Nations have passed legislation that incorporates the provisions of the CPPCG into their domestic law, and some perpetrators of genocide have been found guilty under such municipal laws, such as Nikola Jorgic, who was found guilty of genocide in Bosnia by a German court (Jorgic v. Germany).
Critics of the CPPCG point to the narrow definition of the groups that are protected under the treaty, particularly the lack of protection for political groups for what has been termed politicide (politicide is included as genocide under some municipal jurisdictions). One of the problems was that until there was a body of case law from prosecutions, the precise definition of what the treaty meant had not been tested in court, for example, what precisely does the term "in part" mean? As more perpetrators are tried under international tribunals and municipal court cases, a body of legal arguments and legal interpretations are helping to address these issues.
The exclusion of political groups and politically motivated violence from the international definition of genocide is particularly controversial. The reason for this exclusion is because a number of UN member nations insisted on it when the Genocide Convention was being drafted in 1948. They argued that political groups are too vaguely defined, as well as temporary and unstable. They further held that international law should not seek to regulate or limit political conflicts, since that would give the UN too much power to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. In the years since then, critics have argued that the exclusion of political groups from the definition, as well as the lack of a specific reference to the destruction of a social group through the forcible removal of a population, was designed to protect the Soviet Union.
Another criticism of the CPPCG is that when its provisions have been invoked by the United Nations Security Council, they have only been invoked to punish those who have already committed genocide and have left a paper trail. It was this criticism that led to the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1674 by the United Nations Security Council on 28 April 2006 which commits the Council to action to protect civilians in armed conflict and to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. To supplement this proactive stance, the international community at the UN adopted the Responsibility to Protect at the 2005 World Summit, which states that governments and states have the primary responsibility of preventing and deterring these four high crimes from impacting their own populations. Should the government of any country manifestly fail in this responsibility, the UN has resolved to act collectively to stop the immediate manifestations of these crimes.
Genocide scholars such as Gregory Stanton have postulated that conditions and acts that often occur before, during, and after genocide—such as dehumanization of victim groups, strong organization of genocidal groups, and denial of genocide by its perpetrators—can be identified and actions taken to stop genocides before they happen. Critics of this approach such as Dirk Moses assert that this is unrealistic and that, for example, "Darfur will end when it suits the great powers that have a stake in the region".
Lemkin defined genocide as follows:
Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.
The preamble to the CPPCG states that instances of genocide have taken place throughout history, but it was not until Raphael Lemkin coined the term and the prosecution of perpetrators of the Holocaust at the Nuremberg trials that the United Nations agreed to the CPPCG which defined the crime of genocide under international law.
During a video interview with Raphael Lemkin, the interviewer asked him about how he came to be interested in this genocide. He replied; "I became interested in genocide because it happened so many times. It happened to the Armenians, then after the Armenians, Hitler took action."
Lemkin was also a close relative of genocide victims; he lost 49 of his relatives to the Holocaust. However, his work on defining genocide as a crime dates back to 1933, and it was prompted by the Simele massacre in Iraq.
After the Holocaust, which had been perpetrated by the Nazi Germany and its allies prior to and during World War II, Lemkin successfully campaigned for the universal acceptance of international laws defining and forbidding genocide. In 1946, the first session of the United Nations General Assembly, an organization founded by the victorious Allies of World War II, adopted a resolution that "affirmed" that genocide was a crime under international law, but did not provide a legal definition of the crime. In 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which legally defined the crime of genocide for the first time.
The CPPCG was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1948 and came into effect on 12 January 1951 (Resolution 260 (III)). It contains an internationally recognized definition of genocide which was incorporated into the national criminal legislation of many countries, and was also adopted by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Convention (in article 2) defines genocide:
- (a) Killing members of the group;
- (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
— Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article II
The first draft of the Convention included political killings, but these stipulations were removed in a political and diplomatic compromise following objections from multiple nations including the USSR, a major allied power and permanent security council member. The USSR argued that the Convention's definition should follow the etymology of the term, and may have feared greater international scrutiny of its own Great Purge. Other nations feared that including political groups when defining genocide would invite international intervention in domestic politics.
The convention's purpose and scope was later described by the United Nations Security Council as follows:
The Convention was manifestly adopted for humanitarian and civilizing purposes. Its objectives are to safeguard the very existence of certain human groups and to affirm and emphasize the most elementary principles of humanity and morality. In view of the rights involved, the legal obligations to refrain from genocide are recognized as erga omnes.
When the Convention was drafted, it was already envisaged that it would apply not only to then existing forms of genocide, but also "to any method that might be evolved in the future with a view to destroying the physical existence of a group". As emphasized in the preamble to the Convention, genocide has marred all periods of history, and it is this very tragic recognition that gives the concept its historical evolutionary nature.
The Convention must be interpreted in good faith, in accordance with the ordinary meaning of its terms, in their context, and in the light of its object and purpose. Moreover, the text of the Convention should be interpreted in such a way that a reason and a meaning can be attributed to every word. No word or provision may be disregarded or treated as superfluous, unless this is absolutely necessary to give effect to the terms read as a whole.
Genocide is a crime under international law regardless of "whether committed in time of peace or in time of war" (art. I). Thus, irrespective of the context in which it occurs (for example, peace time, internal strife, international armed conflict or whatever the general overall situation) genocide is a punishable international crime.
— UN Commission of Experts that examined violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia.
In 2007 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), noted in its judgement on Jorgic v. Germany case that in 1992 the majority of legal scholars took the narrow view that "intent to destroy" in the CPPCG meant the intended physical-biological destruction of the protected group and that this was still the majority opinion. But the ECHR also noted that a minority took a broader view and did not consider biological-physical destruction was necessary as the intent to destroy a national, racial, religious or ethnic group was enough to qualify as genocide.
In the same judgement the ECHR reviewed the judgements of several international and municipal courts judgements. It noted that International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice had agreed with the narrow interpretation, that biological-physical destruction was necessary for an act to qualify as genocide. The ECHR also noted that at the time of its judgement, apart from courts in Germany which had taken a broad view, that there had been few cases of genocide under other Convention States municipal laws and that "There are no reported cases in which the courts of these States have defined the type of group destruction the perpetrator must have intended in order to be found guilty of genocide".
The phrase "in whole or in part" has been subject to much discussion by scholars of international humanitarian law. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia found in Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstic – Trial Chamber I – Judgment – IT-98-33 (2001) ICTY8 (2 August 2001) that Genocide had been committed. In Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstic – Appeals Chamber – Judgment – IT-98-33 (2004) ICTY 7 (19 April 2004) paragraphs 8, 9, 10, and 11 addressed the issue of in part and found that "the part must be a substantial part of that group. The aim of the Genocide Convention is to prevent the intentional destruction of entire human groups, and the part targeted must be significant enough to have an impact on the group as a whole." The Appeals Chamber goes into details of other cases and the opinions of respected commentators on the Genocide Convention to explain how they came to this conclusion.
The judges continue in paragraph 12, "The determination of when the targeted part is substantial enough to meet this requirement may involve a number of considerations. The numeric size of the targeted part of the group is the necessary and important starting point, though not in all cases the ending point of the inquiry. The number of individuals targeted should be evaluated not only in absolute terms, but also in relation to the overall size of the entire group. In addition to the numeric size of the targeted portion, its prominence within the group can be a useful consideration. If a specific part of the group is emblematic of the overall group, or is essential to its survival, that may support a finding that the part qualifies as substantial within the meaning of Article 4 [of the Tribunal's Statute]."
In paragraph 13 the judges raise the issue of the perpetrators' access to the victims: "The historical examples of genocide also suggest that the area of the perpetrators’ activity and control, as well as the possible extent of their reach, should be considered. ... The intent to destroy formed by a perpetrator of genocide will always be limited by the opportunity presented to him. While this factor alone will not indicate whether the targeted group is substantial, it can—in combination with other factors—inform the analysis."
After the minimum 20 countries became parties to the Convention, it came into force as international law on 12 January 1951. At that time however, only two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) were parties to the treaty: France and the Republic of China. Eventually the Soviet Union ratified in 1954, the United Kingdom in 1970, the People's Republic of China in 1983 (having replaced the Taiwan-based Republic of China on the UNSC in 1971), and the United States in 1988. This long delay in support for the Genocide Convention by the world's most powerful nations caused the Convention to languish for over four decades. Only in the 1990s did the international law on the crime of genocide begin to be enforced.
UN Security Council Resolution 1674, adopted by the United Nations Security Council on 28 April 2006, "reaffirms the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity". The resolution committed the Council to action to protect civilians in armed conflict.
In 2008 the U.N. Security Council adopted resolution 1820, which noted that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide”.
Since the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) came into effect in January 1951 about 80 member states of the United Nations have passed legislation that incorporates the provisions of the CPPCG into their municipal law.
William Schabas has suggested that a permanent body as recommended by the Whitaker Report to monitor the implementation of the Genocide Convention, and require States to issue reports on their compliance with the convention (such as were incorporated into the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture), would make the convention more effective.
Writing in 1998 Kurt Jonassohn and Karin Björnson stated that the CPPCG was a legal instrument resulting from a diplomatic compromise. As such the wording of the treaty is not intended to be a definition suitable as a research tool, and although it is used for this purpose, as it has an international legal credibility that others lack, other definitions have also been postulated. Jonassohn and Björnson go on to say that none of these alternative definitions have gained widespread support for various reasons.
Jonassohn and Björnson postulate that the major reason why no single generally accepted genocide definition has emerged is because academics have adjusted their focus to emphasise different periods and have found it expedient to use slightly different definitions to help them interpret events. For example Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn studied the whole of human history, while Leo Kuper and R. J. Rummel in their more recent works concentrated on the 20th century, and Helen Fein, Barbara Harff and Ted Gurr have looked at post World War II events. Jonassohn and Björnson are critical of some of these studies, arguing that they are too expansive, and conclude that the academic discipline of genocide studies is too young to have a canon of work on which to build an academic paradigm.
The exclusion of social and political groups as targets of genocide in the CPPCG legal definition has been criticized by some historians and sociologists, for example M. Hassan Kakar in his book The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979–1982 argues that the international definition of genocide is too restricted, and that it should include political groups or any group so defined by the perpetrator and quotes Chalk and Jonassohn: "Genocide is a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator." While there are various definitions of the term, Adam Jones states that the majority of genocide scholars consider that "intent to destroy" is a requirement for any act to be labelled genocide, and that there is growing agreement on the inclusion of the physical destruction criterion.
Barbara Harff and Ted Gurr defined genocide as "the promotion and execution of policies by a state or its agents which result in the deaths of a substantial portion of a group ...[when] the victimized groups are defined primarily in terms of their communal characteristics, i.e., ethnicity, religion or nationality." Harff and Gurr also differentiate between genocides and politicides by the characteristics by which members of a group are identified by the state. In genocides, the victimized groups are defined primarily in terms of their communal characteristics, i.e., ethnicity, religion or nationality. In politicides the victim groups are defined primarily in terms of their hierarchical position or political opposition to the regime and dominant groups. Daniel D. Polsby and Don B. Kates, Jr. state that "... we follow Harff's distinction between genocides and 'pogroms,' which she describes as 'short-lived outbursts by mobs, which, although often condoned by authorities, rarely persist.' If the violence persists for long enough, however, Harff argues, the distinction between condonation and complicity collapses."
According to R. J. Rummel, genocide has 3 different meanings. The ordinary meaning is murder by government of people due to their national, ethnic, racial, or religious group membership. The legal meaning of genocide refers to the international treaty, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This also includes non-killings that in the end eliminate the group, such as preventing births or forcibly transferring children out of the group to another group. A generalized meaning of genocide is similar to the ordinary meaning but also includes government killings of political opponents or otherwise intentional murder. It is to avoid confusion regarding what meaning is intended that Rummel created the term democide for the third meaning.
Highlighting the potential for state and non-state actors to commit genocide in the 21st century, for example, in failed states or as non-state actors acquire weapons of mass destruction, Adrian Gallagher defined genocide as 'When a source of collective power (usually a state) intentionally uses its power base to implement a process of destruction in order to destroy a group (as defined by the perpetrator), in whole or in substantial part, dependent upon relative group size'. The definition upholds the centrality of intent, the multidimensional understanding of destroy, broadens the definition of group identity beyond that of the 1948 definition yet argues that a substantial part of a group has to be destroyed before it can be classified as genocide (dependent on relative group size).
A major criticism of the international community's response to the Rwandan Genocide was that it was reactive, not proactive. The international community has developed a mechanism for prosecuting the perpetrators of genocide but has not developed the will or the mechanisms for intervening in a genocide as it happens. Critics point to the Darfur conflict and suggest that if anyone is found guilty of genocide after the conflict either by prosecutions brought in the International Criminal Court or in an ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal, this will confirm this perception.
All signatories to the CPPCG are required to prevent and punish acts of genocide, both in peace and wartime, though some barriers make this enforcement difficult. In particular, some of the signatories—namely, Bahrain, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, the United States, Vietnam, Yemen, and former Yugoslavia—signed with the proviso that no claim of genocide could be brought against them at the International Court of Justice without their consent. Despite official protests from other signatories (notably Cyprus and Norway) on the ethics and legal standing of these reservations, the immunity from prosecution they grant has been invoked from time to time, as when the United States refused to allow a charge of genocide brought against it by former Yugoslavia following the 1999 Kosovo War.
It is commonly accepted that, at least since World War II, genocide has been illegal under customary international law as a peremptory norm, as well as under conventional international law. Acts of genocide are generally difficult to establish for prosecution, because a chain of accountability must be established. International criminal courts and tribunals function primarily because the states involved are incapable or unwilling to prosecute crimes of this magnitude themselves.
Because the universal acceptance of international laws, defining and forbidding genocide was achieved in 1948, with the promulgation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), those criminals who were prosecuted after the war in international courts, for taking part in the Holocaust were found guilty of crimes against humanity and other more specific crimes like murder. Nevertheless the Holocaust is universally recognized to have been a genocide and the term, that had been coined the year before by Raphael Lemkin, appeared in the indictment of the 24 Nazi leaders, Count 3, which stated that all the defendants had "conducted deliberate and systematic genocide—namely, the extermination of racial and national groups..."
The term Bosnian Genocide is used to refer either to the genocide committed by Serb forces in Srebrenica in 1995, or to ethnic cleansing that took place during the 1992–1995 Bosnian War (an interpretation rejected by a majority of scholars).
In 2001, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) judged that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide.
On 26 February 2007, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in the Bosnian Genocide Case upheld the ICTY's earlier finding that the Srebrenica massacre in Srebrenica and Zepa constituted genocide, but found that the Serbian government had not participated in a wider genocide on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war, as the Bosnian government had claimed.
On 12 July 2007, European Court of Human Rights when dismissing the appeal by Nikola Jorgić against his conviction for genocide by a German court (Jorgic v. Germany) noted that the German courts wider interpretation of genocide has since been rejected by international courts considering similar cases. The ECHR also noted that in the 21st century "Amongst scholars, the majority have taken the view that ethnic cleansing, in the way in which it was carried out by the Serb forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to expel Muslims and Croats from their homes, did not constitute genocide. However, there are also a considerable number of scholars who have suggested that these acts did amount to genocide, and the ICTY has found in the Momcilo Krajisnik case that the actus reu, of genocide was met in Prijedor "With regard to the charge of genocide, the Chamber found that in spite of evidence of acts perpetrated in the municipalities which constituted the actus reus of genocide".
About 30 people have been indicted for participating in genocide or complicity in genocide during the early 1990s in Bosnia. To date, after several plea bargains and some convictions that were successfully challenged on appeal two men, Vujadin Popović and Ljubiša Beara, have been found guilty of committing genocide, Zdravko Tolimir has been found guilty of committing genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide, and two others, Radislav Krstić and Drago Nikolić, have been found guilty of aiding and abetting genocide. Three others have been found guilty of participating in genocides in Bosnia by German courts, one of whom Nikola Jorgić lost an appeal against his conviction in the European Court of Human Rights. A further eight men, former members of the Bosnian Serb security forces were found guilty of genocide by the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (See List of Bosnian genocide prosecutions).
Slobodan Milošević, as the former President of Serbia and of Yugoslavia, was the most senior political figure to stand trial at the ICTY. He died on 11 March 2006 during his trial where he was accused of genocide or complicity in genocide in territories within Bosnia and Herzegovina, so no verdict was returned. In 1995, the ICTY issued a warrant for the arrest of Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić on several charges including genocide. On 21 July 2008, Karadžić was arrested in Belgrade, and he is currently in The Hague on trial accused of genocide among other crimes. Ratko Mladić was arrested on 26 May 2011 by Serbian special police in Lazarevo, Serbia.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is a court under the auspices of the United Nations for the prosecution of offenses committed in Rwanda during the genocide which occurred there during April 1994, commencing on 6 April. The ICTR was created on 8 November 1994 by the Security Council of the United Nations in order to judge those people responsible for the acts of genocide and other serious violations of the international law performed in the territory of Rwanda, or by Rwandan citizens in nearby states, between 1 January and 31 December 1994.
So far, the ICTR has finished nineteen trials and convicted twenty seven accused persons. On 14 December 2009 two more men were accused and convicted for their crimes. Another twenty five persons are still on trial. Twenty-one are awaiting trial in detention, two more added on 14 December 2009. Ten are still at large. The first trial, of Jean-Paul Akayesu, began in 1997. In October 1998, Akayesu was sentenced to life imprisonment. Jean Kambanda, interim Prime Minister, pled guilty.
The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, Ta Mok and other leaders, organized the mass killing of ideologically suspect groups. The total number of victims is estimated at approximately 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975–1979, including deaths from slave labour.
On 6 June 2003 the Cambodian government and the United Nations reached an agreement to set up the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) which would focus exclusively on crimes committed by the most senior Khmer Rouge officials during the period of Khmer Rouge rule of 1975–1979. The judges were sworn in early July 2006.
There has been disagreement between some of the international jurists and the Cambodian government over whether any other people should be tried by the Tribunal.
Since 2002, the International Criminal Court can exercise its jurisdiction if national courts are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute genocide, thus being a "court of last resort," leaving the primary responsibility to exercise jurisdiction over alleged criminals to individual states. Due to the United States concerns over the ICC, the United States prefers to continue to use specially convened international tribunals for such investigations and potential prosecutions.
There has been much debate over categorizing the situation in Darfur as genocide. The on-going conflict in Darfur, Sudan, which started in 2003, was declared a "genocide" by United States Secretary of State Colin Powell on 9 September 2004 in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Since that time however, no other permanent member of the UN Security Council followed suit. In fact, in January 2005, an International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur, authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1564 of 2004, issued a report to the Secretary-General stating that "the Government of the Sudan has not pursued a policy of genocide." Nevertheless, the Commission cautioned that "The conclusion that no genocidal policy has been pursued and implemented in Darfur by the Government authorities, directly or through the militias under their control, should not be taken in any way as detracting from the gravity of the crimes perpetrated in that region. International offences such as the crimes against humanity and war crimes that have been committed in Darfur may be no less serious and heinous than genocide."
In March 2005, the Security Council formally referred the situation in Darfur to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, taking into account the Commission report but without mentioning any specific crimes. Two permanent members of the Security Council, the United States and China, abstained from the vote on the referral resolution. As of his fourth report to the Security Council, the Prosecutor has found "reasonable grounds to believe that the individuals identified [in the UN Security Council Resolution 1593] have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes," but did not find sufficient evidence to prosecute for genocide.
In April 2007, the Judges of the ICC issued arrest warrants against the former Minister of State for the Interior, Ahmad Harun, and a Militia Janjaweed leader, Ali Kushayb, for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
On 14 July 2008, prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC), filed ten charges of war crimes against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder. The ICC's prosecutors claimed that al-Bashir "masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part" three tribal groups in Darfur because of their ethnicity.
On 4 March 2009, the ICC issued a warrant of arrest for Omar Al Bashir, President of Sudan as the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I concluded that his position as head of state does not grant him immunity against prosecution before the ICC. The warrant was for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It did not include the crime of genocide because the majority of the Chamber did not find that the prosecutors had provided enough evidence to include such a charge.
The preamble to the CPPCG states that "genocide is a crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations and condemned by the civilized world," and that "at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity."
In many cases where accusations of genocide have circulated, partisans have fiercely disputed such an interpretation and the details of the event. This often leads to the promotion of vastly different versions of the event in question.
Revisionist attempts to challenge or affirm claims of genocide are illegal in some countries. For example, several European countries ban denying the Holocaust, while in Turkey it is illegal to refer to mass killings of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians by the Ottoman Empire toward the end of the First World War as a genocide.
The 'Age of Totalitarianism' included nearly all of the infamous examples of genocide in modern history, headed by the Jewish Holocaust, but also comprising the mass murders and purges of the Communist world, other mass killings carried out by Nazi Germany and its allies, and also the Armenian genocide of 1915. All these slaughters, it is argued here, had a common origin, the collapse of the elite structure and normal modes of government of much of central, eastern and southern Europe as a result of the First World War, without which surely neither Communism nor Fascism would have existed except in the minds of unknown agitators and crackpots.
— William Rubinstein, Genocide: a history
For genocide to happen, there must be certain preconditions. Foremost among them is a national culture that does not place a high value on human life. A totalitarian society, with its assumed superior ideology, is also a precondition for genocidal acts. In addition, members of the dominant society must perceive their potential victims as less than fully human: as "pagans," "savages," "uncouth barbarians," "unbelievers," "effete degenerates," "ritual outlaws," "racial inferiors," "class antagonists," "counterrevolutionaries," and so on. In themselves, these conditions are not enough for the perpetrators to commit genocide. To do that—that is, to commit genocide—the perpetrators need a strong, centralized authority and bureaucratic organization as well as pathological individuals and criminals. Also required is a campaign of vilification and dehumanization of the victims by the perpetrators, who are usually new states or new regimes attempting to impose conformity to a new ideology and its model of society.
— M. Hassan Kakar
In 1996 Gregory Stanton, the president of Genocide Watch, presented a briefing paper called "The 8 Stages of Genocide" at the United States Department of State. In it he suggested that genocide develops in eight stages that are "predictable but not inexorable".
The Stanton paper was presented to the State Department, shortly after the Rwandan Genocide and much of its analysis is based on why that genocide occurred. The preventative measures suggested, given the briefing paper's original target audience, were those that the United States could implement directly or indirectly by using its influence on other governments.
|People are divided into "us and them".||"The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop universalistic institutions that transcend... divisions."|
|"When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups..."||"To combat symbolization, hate symbols can be legally forbidden as can hate speech".|
|"One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects, or diseases."||"Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen."|
|"Genocide is always organized... Special army units or militias are often trained and armed..."||"The U.N. should impose arms embargoes on governments and citizens of countries involved in genocidal massacres, and create commissions to investigate violations"|
|"Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda..."||"Prevention may mean security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups...Coups d’état by extremists should be opposed by international sanctions."|
|"Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity..."||"At this stage, a Genocide Emergency must be declared. ..."|
|"It is 'extermination' to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human".||"At this stage, only rapid and overwhelming armed intervention can stop genocide. Real safe areas or refugee escape corridors should be established with heavily armed international protection."|
|"The perpetrators... deny that they committed any crimes..."||"The response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts"|
In April 2012, it was reported that Stanton would soon be officially adding two new stages, Discrimination and Persecution, to his original theory, which would make for a 10-stage theory of genocide.
In a paper for the Social Science Research Council Dirk Moses criticises the Stanton approach concluding:
In view of this rather poor record of ending genocide, the question needs to be asked why the "genocide studies" paradigm cannot predict and prevent genocides with any accuracy and reliability. The paradigm of "genocide studies," as currently constituted in North America in particular, has both strengths and limitations. While the moral fervor and public activism is admirable and salutary, the paradigm appears blind to its own implication in imperial projects that are themselves as much part of the problem as they are part of the solution. The US government called Darfur a genocide to appease domestic lobbies, and because the statement cost it nothing. Darfur will end when it suits the great powers that have a stake in the region.
— Dirk Moses
Other authors have focused on the structural conditions leading up to genocide and the psychological and social processes that create an evolution toward genocide. Helen Fein showed that pre-existing anti-Semitism and systems that maintained anti-Semitic policies were related to the number of Jews killed in different European countries during the Holocaust. Ervin Staub showed that economic deterioration and political confusion and disorganization were starting points of increasing discrimination and violence in many instances of genocides and mass killing. They lead to scapegoating a group and ideologies that identified that group as an enemy. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the victim, past violence against the group that becomes the perpetrator leading to psychological wounds, authoritarian cultures and political systems, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that the violence develops into genocide. Intense conflict between groups that is unresolved, becomes intractable and violent can also lead to genocide. The conditions that lead to genocide provide guidance to early prevention, such as humanizing a devalued group,creating ideologies that embrace all groups, and activating bystander responses. There is substantial research to indicate how this can be done, but information is only slowly transformed into action.
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