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Genocide is the intentional destruction of human life. It is widely acknowledged as the worst offense a government can perpetrate against its people. This decision was traditionally made following the Holocaust, which involved the murder of Jews in Germany while it was ruled by the Nazis. Following the incident, the word "genocide" was brought to the attention of people all over the world, and authorities pressured the UN to categorize acts of genocide as international crimes. This led to the approval of Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide (CPPCG) and the creation of International Criminal Court (ICC) by the UN states to fight against genocide in the world (Messall 47).

The term genocide was first used in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin to explain the Holocaust. Before then, terms such as mass murder and symmetrical killings used to refer to crimes against humanity. Since 1944, the term genocide has been used in to explain various events of deliberate and mass killings including the Armenian genocide of 1915, the Assyrian genocide, the Serbian genocide, the Bangladesh genocide of 1971, the Kurdish genocide and the Rwanda genocide of 1994.

Since the Holocaust, it is believed that a total of 30 genocides have occurred around the world, which have claimed a total of about 50 million persons.

The Origin and History of Genocide.

During the twentieth century, several Hague treaties and Geneva conventions established laws that declared it illegal to sink unarmed passenger ships, instinctively slain and target citizens or execute a group that did not pose a threat. None of the massacres which either The Hague treaties or the Geneva conventions tried to prevent was referred to as genocide. After the mass killings of the Jews by the Nazi regime in Germany, Winston Churchill recognized the horrible scope of the massacre as an atrocity which was so lethal to name (Messall 48).

In 1944 during the onset of the Holocaust, Raphael Lemkin formulated the legal ideology. On fleeing Germany, he campaigned for an international convention that would create international crimes out of the annihilation of groups including racial, social and religious groups. He called such crimes “Acts of Barbarity,” but was discontent with the general meaning of the term. Years later, Lemkin came across the Greek work genos which stands for race or tribe. An idea flashed on Raphael to add the Latin word cīdere which means killer to the Greek word Genos, giving birth to the word “genocide.” In 1944, Lemkin wrote a book on Axis Rule in Occupied Europe which was the first public articulation of the word genocide. In the book, Lemkin referred to genocide as the act of systematical destruction and extinction of nations, racial and ethnic groups. He lobbied for the creation of an international genocide convention and pushed for debates to criminalize mass killings at the UN. The result was that genocide was declared a crime under international laws (Day & Margret 46).

According to Day & Margret (49), it was not until Lemkin coined the term genocide in 1944 and pushed for the prosecution of the perpetrators of the holocaust in 1946, that the UN adopted, and ratified the act of genocide under the international law in the genocide convention. In 1948, the UN convened a meeting which defined the term genocide for the first time into an internationally accepted definition which was inculcated into the criminal legislation of many states and the Rome Statute. They defined genocide as the motive to sabotage partly or in whole, an ethical, religion, national or racial group.

The Evolution and Controversies of Genocide.

In 1948, the CPPCG and the ICC definition of genocide as a crime limited it to crimes against humanity, whose scope extended to the murder of civilians exclusively during war. However, Article 1 of the UN convention was introduced to establish that genocide should be treated as crime whether it occurs in times of war or in peacetime (Robin Np).

According to Messall (48), convictions for genocide crimes were to be handled by the UN. However, a signature to the UN convention bestowed powers upon member states to deal with crimes of genocide. These powers include: enacting national legislation to bring to book crimes of genocide within a nation, powers to ascertain the whereabouts of an individual accused of genocide, and powers to send a state’s genocide cases to an international tribunal.

Lemkin’s definition of genocide did not infer the immediate destruction of a nation except when the invalidation was accomplished through mass murder. However, the present convention not only covers for crimes of mass murder already executed but also the intent to destroy a group of people. Intent has been established as enunciated from a perpetrator’s motive for a crime and can be construed from the truths and precedence of the crime. Intent to destroy humanity is weighted through the scope of atrocities from the crime, type of weapons employed in executing the crime, the extent of bodily injuries, and the similarity of the crime to other crimes established as genocide (Robins Np).

According to Messall (49), the 1948 definition of genocide by Lemkin and the CPPCG did not enact a numeric threshold which a perpetrator must attain, to be declared as having the intent to commit genocide. However, the recent Genocide conventions have established the meaning of “in whole or in part” from the definition of genocide, to mean a considerable number of people in a group relative to the total population.

The controversies of the term genocide can be established from Sand in the Nuremberg case where he proclaimed that the term genocide should be used for crimes after 1950. Sand pointed out that the Holocaust was a crime before 1950 and that Jews were not an ethnic or racial group, therefore, the crime by Nazi regime should not be labeled as genocide. Further, he affirmed that the term genocide imposed guilt on a state as a whole and therefore should not be applied to the Nazi atrocities (Day & Margret 49).

The definition of genocide hails problematic aspects which make it difficult for lawyers to find evidence to appropriate criminal intent, considering executioners of such crimes do not leave a paper trail for judgment. Additionally, a guilty verdict of genocide is an indirect punishment to citizens since the humiliation is passed over to the nation (Mamdani 29).

According to Day & Margret (53), the term genocide holds so much stigma and humiliation that Bill Clinton ordered state employees not to employ the word to explain the mass killings that took place in Rwanda in 1994 since it would force America to intervene.


The term Genocide was invented by Raphael Lemkin in 1944 to explain the Jews massacre in Germany under the Nazi regime. The term originates from the Greek work genos which means tribe and the Latin word cīdere which means killer. Decisions that have been passed down by the ICJ since 1948 have helped clarify the meaning of the word genocide. However, genocide remains a reserved term as it harbors immense ignominy, which no court would wish to inflict on any nation.

Works Cited.

Day, L. Edward, and Margaret Vandiver. "Criminology and genocide studies: Notes on what might have been and what still could be." Crime, Law and Social Change 34.1 (2000): 43-59.

Mamdani, Mahmood. "A brief history of genocide." Transition 10.3 (2001): 26-47.

Messall, Rebecca. "The Evolution of Genocide." Human Life Review, vol. 26, no. 1, Winter2000, p. 47-49. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&db=aph&AN=3036859&site=ehost-live.

Robins, Nicholas A., and Adam Jones, eds. Genocides by the oppressed: subaltern genocide in theory and practice. Indiana University Press, 2009: Np.

July 15, 2023

Nazi Germany Europe

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Genocide Holocaust Germany

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