Genocide Convention

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Genocide Convention
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
Signed9 December 1948
Effective12 January 1951
Parties149 (complete list)
Depositary Secretary-General of the United Nations

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948 as General Assembly Resolution 260. The Convention entered into force on 12 January 1951. [1] It defines genocide in legal terms, and is the culmination of years of campaigning by lawyer Raphael Lemkin. [2] All participating countries are advised to prevent and punish actions of genocide in war and in peacetime. As of May 2019, 150 states have ratified or acceded to the treaty, most recently Turkmenistan on 26 December 2018. [3] One state, the Dominican Republic, has signed but not ratified the treaty.

United Nations General Assembly Principal organ of the United Nations

The United Nations General Assembly is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations (UN), the only one in which all member nations have equal representation, and the main deliberative, policy-making, and representative organ of the UN. Its powers are to oversee the budget of the UN, appoint the non-permanent members to the Security Council, appoint the Secretary-General of the United Nations, receive reports from other parts of the UN, and make recommendations in the form of General Assembly Resolutions. It has also established numerous subsidiary organs.

Genocide is intentional action to destroy a people in whole or in part. The hybrid word "genocide" is a combination of the Greek word γένος and the Latin suffix -caedo.

Raphael Lemkin Polish lawyer of Jewish descent

Raphael Lemkin, Polish: Rafał Lemkin was a lawyer of Polish-Jewish descent who is best known for coining the word genocide and initiating the Genocide Convention. Lemkin coined the word genocide in 1943 or 1944 from genos and -cide.


Definition of genocide

Article 2 of the 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:

(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 2 [4]

Article 3 defines the crimes that can be punished under the convention:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 3 [4]

The convention was passed to outlaw actions similar to the Holocaust by Nazi Germany during World War II. The first draft of the Convention included political killings, but the USSR [5] along with some other nations would not accept that actions against groups identified as holding similar political opinions or social status would constitute genocide, [6] so these stipulations were subsequently removed in a political and diplomatic compromise.

The Holocaust Genocide of the European Jews by Nazi Germany and other groups

The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah, was a genocide during World War II in which Nazi Germany, aided by local collaborators, systematically murdered some six million European Jews—around two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe—between 1941 and 1945. Jews were targeted for extermination as part of a larger event during the Holocaust era, in which Germany and its collaborators persecuted and murdered other groups, including Slavs, the Roma, the "incurably sick", political and religious dissenters such as communists and Jehovah's Witnesses, and gay men. Taking into account all the victims of Nazi persecution, the death toll rises to 17 million.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state that controlled nearly all aspects of life via the Gleichschaltung legal process. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.


Participation in the Genocide Convention
Signed and ratified
Acceded or succeeded Genocide Convention Participation.svg
Participation in the Genocide Convention
  Signed and ratified
  Acceded or succeeded

Provision granting immunity from prosecution for genocide without its consent were made by Bahrain, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, the United States, Vietnam, Yemen, and Yugoslavia. [7] [8] Prior to the United States Senate's ratification of the convention, Senator William Proxmire spoke in favor of the treaty to the Senate every day it was in session between 1967 and 1986.

Immunity from prosecution (international law)

Immunity from prosecution is a doctrine of international law that allows an accused to avoid prosecution for criminal offences. Immunities are of two types. The first is functional immunity, or immunity ratione materiae. This is an immunity granted to people who perform certain functions of state. The second is personal immunity, or immunity ratione personae. This is an immunity granted to certain officials because of the office they hold, rather than in relation to the act they have committed.

Yugoslavia 1918–1992 country in Southeastern and Central Europe

Yugoslavia was a country in Southeastern and Central Europe for most of the 20th century. It came into existence after World War I in 1918 under the name of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes by the merger of the provisional State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs with the Kingdom of Serbia, and constituted the first union of the South Slavic people as a sovereign state, following centuries in which the region had been part of the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary. Peter I of Serbia was its first sovereign. The kingdom gained international recognition on 13 July 1922 at the Conference of Ambassadors in Paris. The official name of the state was changed to Kingdom of Yugoslavia on 3 October 1929.

United States Senate Upper house of the United States Congress

The United States Senate is the upper chamber of the United States Congress, which along with the United States House of Representatives—the lower chamber—comprises the legislature of the United States. The Senate chamber is located in the north wing of the Capitol, in Washington, D.C.


Immunity from prosecutions

Persons charged with genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III shall be tried by a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was committed, or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction with respect to those Contracting Parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction.

International Criminal Court Permanent international tribunal

The International Criminal Court is an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal that sits in The Hague, Netherlands. The ICC has jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. It is intended to complement existing national judicial systems and it may therefore exercise its jurisdiction only when certain conditions are met, such as when national courts are unwilling or unable to prosecute criminals or when the United Nations Security Council or individual states refer situations to the Court.

Jurisdiction is the practical authority granted to a legal body to administer justice within a defined field of responsibility, e.g., Michigan tax law. In federations like the United States, areas of jurisdiction apply to local, state, and federal levels; e.g. the court has jurisdiction to apply federal law.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 6 [4]

Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 8 [4]

Disputes between the Contracting Parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfilment of the present Convention, including those relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or for any of the other acts enumerated in article III, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of any of the parties to the dispute.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 9 [4]
  • Flag of Bahrain.svg Bahrain
  • Flag of Bangladesh.svg Bangladesh
  • Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg China
  • Flag of India.svg India
  • Flag of Malaysia.svg Malaysia (reservation opposed by Netherlands, United Kingdom)
  • Flag of Morocco.svg Morocco
  • Flag of Myanmar.svg Myanmar
  • Flag of the Philippines.svg Philippines (reservation opposed by Norway )
  • Flag of Rwanda.svg Rwanda (reservation opposed by United Kingdom )
  • Flag of Singapore.svg Singapore (reservation opposed by Netherlands, United Kingdom)
  • Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg United Arab Emirates
  • Flag of the United States.svg United States of America (reservation opposed by Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom )
  • Flag of Venezuela.svg Venezuela
  • Flag of Vietnam.svg Vietnam (reservation opposed by United Kingdom )
  • Flag of Yemen.svg Yemen (reservation opposed by United Kingdom )

Application to Non-Self-Governing Territories

Any Contracting Party may at any time, by notification addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, extend the application of the present Convention to all or any of the territories for the conduct of whose foreign relations that Contracting Party is responsible

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 12 [4]

Several countries opposed this article, considering that the convention should apply to Non-Self-Governing Territories:

  • Flag of Albania.svg Albania
  • Flag of Belarus.svg Belarus
  • Flag of Bulgaria.svg Bulgaria
  • Flag of Hungary.svg Hungary
  • Flag of Mongolia.svg Mongolia
  • Flag of Myanmar.svg Myanmar
  • Flag of Poland.svg Poland
  • Flag of Romania.svg Romania
  • Flag of Russia.svg Russian Federation
  • Flag of Ukraine.svg Ukraine

The opposition of those countries were in turn opposed by:

  • Flag of Australia (converted).svg Australia
  • Flag of Belgium (civil).svg Belgium
  • Flag of Brazil.svg Brazil
  • Flag of Ecuador.svg Ecuador
  • Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg China
  • Flag of the Netherlands.svg Netherlands
  • Flag of Sri Lanka.svg Sri Lanka
  • Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom



In 1988, following the campaign of chemical weapons attacks and mass killings of Kurdish persons in northern Iraq, legislation was proposed to the United States House of Representatives, in the, "Prevention of Genocide Act". The bill was defeated to allegations of "inappropriate terms" such as "genocide". Contemporary scholars and international organizations widely consider the Anfal Campaign to have been genocide following the Iran-Iraq war, killing tens of thousands of Kurds. Saddam Hussein was charged individual with genocide though executed prior to a return for the charge. Associates of Hussein such as "Chemical Ali", and others have been widely accused of genocide and the events widely cited as one of the atrocities most commonly associated with the Hussein regime. [9]


The first time that the 1948 law was enforced occurred on 2 September 1998 when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former mayor of a small town in Rwanda, guilty of nine counts of genocide. The lead prosecutor in this case was Pierre-Richard Prosper. Two days later, Jean Kambanda became the first head of government to be convicted of genocide.

The Former Yugoslavia

The first state and parties to be found in breach of the Genocide convention was Serbia and Montenegro, and numerous Bosnian Serb leaders. In the Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro case the International Court of Justice presented its judgment on 26 February 2007. It cleared Serbia of direct involvement in genocide during the Bosnian war. International Tribunal findings, have addressed two allegations of genocidal events, including the 1992 Ethnic Cleansing Campaign in municipalities throughout Bosnia, as well as the convictions found in regards to the Srebrenica Massacre of 1995 in which the tribunal found, "Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide, they targeted for extinction, the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims of Srebrenica ... the trial chamber refers to the crimes by their appropriate name, genocide ...". Individual convictions applicable to the 1992 Ethnic Cleansings have not been secured however. A number domestic courts and legislatures have found these events to have met the criteria of genocide, and the ICTY found the acts of, and intent to destroy to have been satisfied, the "Dolus Specialis" still in question and before the MICT, UN war crimes court. [10] [11] but ruled that Belgrade did breach international law by failing to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, and for failing to try or transfer the persons accused of genocide to the ICTY, in order to comply with its obligations under Articles I and VI of the Genocide Convention, in particular in respect of General Ratko Mladić. [12] [13]

Situations under investigation

The United Nations Security Council is the organization entitled to mandate the International Criminal Court with investigations relating to breaches of the genocide convention. [14]

As of 2018, the case relating to Darfur, Sudan, opened in 2005, is the only pending investigation that is genocide-related. Warrants to arrest Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, Former president of Sudan, were issued in 2009 and 2010. The case remains in the pre-trial stage as the suspect is still at large. [15]

Other accusations

United States

One of the first accusations of genocide submitted to the UN after the Convention entered into force concerned treatment of Black Americans. The Civil Rights Congress drafted a 237-page petition arguing that even after 1945, the United States had been responsible for hundreds of wrongful deaths, both legal and extra-legal, as well as numerous other genocidal abuses. Leaders from the Black community, including William Patterson, Paul Robeson, and W. E. B. DuBois presented this petition to the UN in December 1951. [16] However, this accusation was a domestic political act by the Civil Rights Congress, without any reservations that a formal charge would be levied against the U.S.

See also

Related Research Articles

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia UN ad hoc court located in The Hague, Netherlands

The International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991, more commonly referred to as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), was a body of the United Nations established to prosecute serious crimes committed during the Yugoslav Wars, and to try their perpetrators. The tribunal was an ad hoc court located in The Hague, Netherlands.

Crimes against humanity deliberate attack against civilians

Crimes against humanity are certain acts that are deliberately committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian or an identifiable part of a civilian population. The first prosecution for crimes against humanity took place at the Nuremberg trials. Crimes against humanity have since been prosecuted by other international courts as well as in domestic prosecutions. The law of crimes against humanity has primarily developed through the evolution of customary international law. Crimes against humanity are not codified in an international convention, although there is currently an international effort to establish such a treaty, led by the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative.

Srebrenica massacre Massacre of over 8,000 Bosniaks in Srebrenica region during the Bosnian War

The Srebrenica massacre, also known as the Srebrenica genocide, was the July 1995 massacre of more than 8,000 Bosniaks, mainly men and boys, in and around the town of Srebrenica during the Bosnian War.

Bosnian genocide

The term Bosnian genocide refers to either genocide at Srebrenica and Žepa committed by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995 or the wider ethnic cleansing campaign throughout areas controlled by the Army of Republika Srpska that took place during the 1992–1995 Bosnian War.

International criminal law

International criminal law is a body of public international law designed to prohibit certain categories of conduct commonly viewed as serious atrocities and to make perpetrators of such conduct criminally accountable for their perpetration. The core crimes under international law are genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression. This article also discusses crimes against international law, which may not be part of the body of international criminal law.

Republika Srpska (1992–95) Former proto-state

Republika Srpska was a proto-state in Eastern Europe under the control of the Army of Republika Srpska during the Bosnian War. It claimed to be a sovereign state, though this claim was not recognized by the Bosnian government, the United Nations, or any other recognized state. For the first few months of its existence, it was known as the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Manjača camp

Manjača camp (pronounced:Mañacha) was a prison camp which was located on mount Manjača near the city of Banja Luka in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Bosnian War and the Croatian War of Independence from 1991 to 1995. The camp was founded by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) and authorities of the Republika Srpska (RS) and was used to collect and confine thousands of male prisoners of Bosniak and Croat nationalities.

Trnopolje camp prisoners camp

The Trnopolje camp was an internment camp established by Bosnian Serb military and police authorities in the village of Trnopolje near Prijedor in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina, during the first months of the Bosnian War. Also variously termed a concentration camp, detainment camp, detention camp, prison, and ghetto, Trnopolje held between 4,000 and 7,000 Bosniak and Bosnian Croat inmates at any one time and served as a staging area for mass deportations, mainly of women, children, and elderly men. Between May and November 1992, an estimated 30,000 inmates passed through. Mistreatment was widespread and there were numerous instances of torture, rape, and killing; ninety inmates died.

Bosnian genocide case

Bosnia and Herzegovina v Serbia and Montenegro [2007] ICJ 2 is a public international law case decided by the International Court of Justice.

A war crimes trial is the trial of persons charged with criminal violation of the laws and customs of war and related principles of international law committed during armed conflict.

Joint criminal enterprise concept in international criminal law

Joint criminal enterprise (JCE) is a legal doctrine used during war crimes tribunals to allow the prosecution of members of a group for the actions of the group. This doctrine considers each member of an organized group individually responsible for crimes committed by group within the common plan or purpose. It arose through the application of the idea of common purpose and has been applied by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to prosecute political and military leaders for mass war crimes, including genocide, committed during the Yugoslav Wars 1991–1999.

Radovan Karadžić former Bosnian Serb politician

Radovan Karadžić is a Bosnian Serb former politician and convicted war criminal who served as the President of Republika Srpska during the Bosnian War and sought the unification of that entity with Serbia.

Siege of Srebrenica 1992 - 1995 siege during the Bosnian War

The Siege of Srebrenica was a three-year siege of the town of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina which lasted from April 1992 to July 1995 during the Bosnian War. Initially assaulted by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and the Serbian Volunteer Guard (SDG), the town was encircled by the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) in May 1992, starting a brutal siege which was to last for the majority of the Bosnian War. In June 1995, the commander of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) in the enclave, Naser Orić, left Srebrenica and fled to the town of Tuzla. He was subsequently replaced by his deputy, Major Ramiz Bećirović.

Serbia in the Yugoslav Wars

Serbia was involved in the Yugoslav Wars in the period between 1991 and 1999 - the war in Slovenia, the war in Croatia, the war in Bosnia and the war in Kosovo. During this period from 1991 to 1997, Slobodan Milošević was the President of Serbia, Serbia was part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has established that Milošević was in control of Serb forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia during the wars there from 1991 to 1995.

Atrocity crimes refer to the three legally defined international crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. In 2017 the International Criminal Court (ICC) will be deciding upon whether or not to include crimes of aggression within their jurisdiction; effectively adding a fourth atrocity crime. These crimes are defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols, and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Vujadin Popović is a Bosnian Serb who participated in the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was Lieutenant Colonel and the Chief of Security of the Drina Corps of the Army of Republika Srpska.

Ljubiša Beara was a Bosnian Serb colonel who participated in the Srebrenica massacre.

Bosnian genocide denial is an act of denying or the assertion that the systemic Bosnian genocide against Bosniak Muslim population of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as planned and perpetrated by Serb academic, political and military establishment, did not occur, or at least didn't occur in the manner or to the extent established by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) through its proceedings and judgments, and described by subsequent comprehensive scholarship.


  1. Status of the Convention Archived 24 September 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Auron, Yair, The Banality of Denial, (Transaction Publishers, 2004), 9.
  3. "United Nations Treaty Collection" . Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Text of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, website of the UNHCHR.
  5. Robert Gellately & Ben Kiernan (2003). The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 267. ISBN   0-521-52750-3.
  6. Staub, Ervin. The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 8. ISBN   0-521-42214-0.
  7. Prevent Genocide International: Declarations and Reservations to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
  8. United Nations Treaty Collection: Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Archived 20 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine , STATUS AS AT: 1 October 2011 07:22:22 EDT
  9. Dave Johns. "FRONTLINE/WORLD . Iraq - Saddam's Road to Hell - A journey into the killing fields . PBS".
  10. Chambers, The Hague. "ICTY convicts Ratko Mladić for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity | International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia".
  11. Hudson, Alexandra (26 February 2007). "Serbia cleared of genocide, failed to stop killing". Reuters.
  12. ICJ:Summary of the Judgment of 26 February 2007 – Bosnia v. Serbia
  13. Court Declares Bosnia Killings Were Genocide The New York Times, 26 February 2007. A copy of the ICJ judgement can be found here Archived 28 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  14. "Listing of genocide cases pending at the ICC". International Criminal Court (ICC). Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  15. "Al Bashir Case, The Prosecutor v. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, ICC-02/05-01/09". International Criminal Court (ICC). Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  16. John Docker, "Raphaël Lemkin, creator of the concept of genocide: a world history perspective", Humanities Research 16(2), 2010.

Further reading