25/11/2014 23:46

What is Genocide?

 The Merriam Webster dictionary defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group”. The term was however coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944 by combining the Greek word genos (race) with the Latin word for cide (killing).[1] Prior to this, the world wasn’t sure how to categorize any human rights violations that involved mass killings of members belonging to a certain group or race. The Herero genocide of 1904 is unheard of today because at the time, no one considered mass killings of people belonging to a certain group as genocide. This genocide occurred in present day Namibia, and led to the death of at least four fifths of the Herero population at the hands of the Germans. “After Herero soldiers attacked German farmers, German troops implemented a policy to eliminate all Hereros from the region, including women and children.”[2] The Nanking saga is also remembered as one of the most notorious events of the 20th century. During this event, the Japanese murdered over 300,000 civilians in China, and another 20,000 women raped and murdered. Although this was a gross violation of human rights, it doesn’t qualify as genocide, because it’s not clear whether the Japanese had the intent of exterminating all the Chinese in Nanking.

Genocide doesn’t essentially involve the killing of people of a given group or race, but almost always symbolizes the idea of committing crimes with the intention of destroying in whole, or in part, a certain group or race of people. Usually, one superior group of people tries to get rid of another group, which they deem inferior. A number of genocides have occurred over the years.  Some of these include: the holocaust, the Turkish genocide against the Armenians during World War 1,  the Bosnia genocide by the Serbs, the Rwanda genocide, the Darfur genocide in Sudan, just to mention but a few. In each case, human rights were violated on many levels, lives were lost, and yet there was no considerable remedy provided by international law. 

One of the main reasons why genocides have been persistent globally is because international law has not been used appropriately to try and stop the next genocide from happening. It seems that the world has learned nothing, and forgotten nothing from previous mass violations. When the Armenian genocide and the holocaust happened, there wasn’t much of an international court or international law that could have saved the situation. After the formation of the UN it was assumed, at least in theory; that future generations would not have to face the terrors that the Jews and Armenians endured in Germany and Turkey respectively.  The UN however, hasn’t done much in respect to this, due to its bureaucratic structure.  It has awarded a lot of power to its Security Council, which is potentially the most powerful organ of the UN, but this organ, hasn’t been able to protect the world from all the terrors that have defiled it. During the Rwanda genocide, the United States had its influence within the UN and made sure that no military help was awarded to this country as nearly ten thousand people were killed every day. The world continues to be plagued with genocides today, because of the UN’s inability to act.

[1] (accessed on November 18, 2014 at 6:50 pm.)

[2] (accessed on April 10th 2009 at 10:06am)