On December 9, 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. What was the reason for the adoption of this document and what is the history of the emergence of the international legal term "genocide"?
"The Convention is an extremely important document for the entire world community. Its fundamental importance lies in the establishment of the international legal status of the concept of "genocide" as the gravest crime against humanity. In international law, crimes against humanity or humanity are understood as crimes against life and health of a mass nature. For the first time, the concept of genocide was given a legal definition in the Convention. All participating countries were required to take measures to prevent and punish acts of genocide, both in wartime and in peacetime. However, not all countries in the world have yet ratified the Convention. To date, it has been signed by about 150 states (out of 195 – RT).
The need for the adoption of the Convention was predetermined by a number of reasons. First, shortly before its adoption, the most terrible war in the history of mankind ended, claiming the lives of about 70-85 million people. About half of the victims were in the Soviet Union and China. Moreover, most of these people died not on the battlefield, but as a result of inhuman treatment of prisoners and the purposeful destruction of civilians, including on the basis of nationality. Jews, Russians, Belarusians, Serbs, Gypsies, and Chinese suffered the most. Secondly, the post-war world was seen by the victorious powers and the founders of the UN as just. It was necessary not only to punish the criminals, as happened during the Nuremberg, Tokyo and national trials, but also to prevent similar crimes in the future.
Genocide is clearly defined in the Convention. It refers to acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such: murder, causing serious bodily or mental harm, intentionally creating conditions calculated to bring about total or partial physical destruction, measures calculated to prevent births, forcible transfer of children from one human group to another.
The author of the term "genocide" and the draft Convention was a participant in the Nuremberg Tribunal, lawyer Raphael Lemkin. He came from a family of Polish Jews who had survived persecution during World War II. In 1944, he published the book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, in which he first introduced the concept of genocide. Lemkin defined it as "a coordinated plan of various actions aimed at destroying the vital foundations of the existence of national groups and of the groups themselves." The concept of "genocide" was then included in the Nuremberg Tribunal's indictment, but as a descriptive rather than a legal term. In the 1948 Convention, it was enshrined as a legal definition.
- Raphael Lemkin is the author of the term "genocide" and the draft UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
- © Public domain
In modern journalism, you can often find arguments about what can be considered genocide today and what cannot. What is the reason for these discussions? What, in your opinion, is the most complete content of this term?
In general, the most complete legal definition of genocide is contained in the 1948 Convention. However, over the past 75 years, and especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the very term "genocide" has come to be used by Western elites as a kind of information weapon. Accusations of alleged genocide are used to demonize regimes that are undesirable to the West in order to overthrow them. In this way, it becomes easy to defame both individuals and entire nations.
Let me give you a specific example from recent history. In July 2021, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, who is actually a foreign overseer, Valentin Inzko, introduced into the criminal code of the republic a provision on responsibility for denying the genocide in Srebrenica and "glorifying war criminals." Now, public disagreement with the Western interpretation of the events of the interethnic conflict can be punishable by imprisonment for a period of six months to five years. Of course, this was not invented by the Austrian diplomat of Slovenian origin himself. He's just a cog in the system. The Serbs, who defended their home, and thanks to whom the statehood of the Republika Srpska was preserved, at least in fragment form, became "war criminals" on their own soil. This whole situation is a purely political technology, designed so that no one will ask the question: "Was there a genocide at all?"
In 2019-2021, two independent international commissions studied the events of the 1990s in Sarajevo and Srebrenica. Respected scientists and experts from Austria, Australia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Nigeria, Russia, Serbia, the USA and Japan took part in this work. Two voluminous reports recorded the history of the development of the conflict, analyzed the role of radical Islam in demonizing the Serbs, studied the psychology of the warring parties, and displayed the number of victims. We now have evidence to prove that neither in Sarajevo nor in Srebrenica did the Serbs commit genocide. The Commission recognized that thousands of people, mostly prisoners of war, had been brutally murdered and that those responsible should be justly punished. But there was no genocide there. On the contrary, some genocidal practices were applied to the Serbs themselves. Therefore, the conclusions of the Hague Tribunal on the alleged genocide in Srebrenica, I am sure, will not stand the test of time. Frivolous use of the term "genocide" will lead to the loss of its meaning. If applied to incidents such as those in Srebrenica, it will soon become common to all military conflicts.
- UN Building
- © Doug Armand
"In the media and expert commentaries, one can find the opinion that everything that happened before the adoption of the Convention cannot be considered genocide. Is this true? For example, can the massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire be considered genocide?
The absence of the very concept of "genocide" before 1944 does not mean that world history did not know the practice of exterminating entire ethnic, religious and social groups. The extermination of Indians and other aboriginal peoples by European conquerors, the slave trade, and the Opium Wars can all fall under the category of genocide because these acts were premeditated and had far-reaching goals.
When Raphael Lemkin began to study the nature of genocide, he started from the events of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire. At that time, the declarations of Great Britain, France and Russia began to use the definition of "crime against humanity." After the adoption of the 1948 Convention, many countries used the term "genocide" to condemn the crimes that took place in the Ottoman Empire, although in modern Turkey such an assessment is denied.
By the way, when Lemkin raised the issue of countering the destruction of entire ethnic or religious groups back in 1933, the very definition of such crimes was quite broad. It included the destruction of cultural values and historical heritage, the prohibition of the use of the native language, and the forcible invasion of privacy.
- Rwandan refugee children plead with Zaire soldiers to allow them to cross the bridge separating Rwanda and Zaire (now Congo), which their mothers crossed moments before the soldiers closed the border, on August 20, 1994
- © Jean-Marc Bouju
Did the adoption of the Convention in 1948 play a real role in preventing crimes that could be interpreted as genocide?
"Unfortunately, no international document is able to prevent crime 100%. There have been and will be conflicts, wars, crimes, but this does not mean that it is useless to resist evil. It must be fought with all available means. And not only by regulatory documents. We need to be engaged in upbringing and education, we need to know our own and world history well, we need to remember the terrible examples of genocides.
Is it possible to see signs of genocide in the conflicts that have occurred over the past 30 years or are taking place today?
— Absolutely. There are signs of genocide in many conflicts. This is especially evident on the African continent. Over the course of three months, from April to July 1994, an estimated 0.5 million to 1.1 million of the 3 million Tutsi were killed in Rwanda. The genocide was planned by the Rwandan political elite and directly carried out by the army, gendarmerie and extremist groups supported by the authorities.
In fact, there are also signs of genocide in what the Kiev junta is doing in relation to the Russian-speaking residents of the former Ukrainian SSR: a ban on the use of the native language in many areas, persecution on the basis of nationality, the destruction of culture, and religious persecution. All this falls into the category of deliberately creating unacceptable conditions for the development of an ethnic group. To this must be added torture, violence, and killings on the basis of nationality and culture.
In your opinion, what are the legal, military, informational and other tools to prevent the crime of genocide in the future? Is it necessary to amend international legal acts for this purpose?
"Given the fact that the entire world system is now in a state of turbulence, and the norms of international law are interpreted by the law of the strongest, it does not seem expedient to make any changes right now. A new world order is coming, and after it is established, there will be new norms. However, now it is important to raise the issue of the inadmissibility of genocide at all venues, to talk about the crimes of both the Kiev regime and its curators.
- A woman near a charred apple tree in the village of Zaitseve (north of the city of Horlivka, Donetsk region) after shelling by Ukrainian militants
- © Sergey Averin
And, of course, it is absolutely unacceptable to forget about the crimes committed by the Nazis during the Great Patriotic War. The losses of the Soviet civilian population amounted to about 14.7 million people. Millions died as a result of the Hitlerites' creation of the most harsh conditions for people deported to work in Germany and in the occupied territories. Behind these figures is a misanthropic philosophy and bestial cruelty. Remembering the terrible examples from the past is one of the most important conditions for preventing genocide in the future.