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THE LEGAL DEFINITION OF GENOCIDE

THE LEGAL DEFINITION OF GENOCIDE

 

Although the word ‘genocide’ is often used colloquially, as shorthand for the deliberate mass-murder of civilians, its definition under international law is more specific.  Genocide under international law requires both a material element (specific acts such as killing members of a racial group) and a mental element (those acts must have been committed with the specific intent to destroy a particular group).

Genocide is defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (often referred to as the Genocide Convention). After affirming that genocide is a crime under international law whether committed in time of peace or war, the Genocide 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.

The Genocide Convention does more than define the crime, it holds states responsible for preventing and punishing genocide. This obligation is stated in Article 1 of the convention under which states must prevent or punish genocide, individually or through the United Nations, and the International Criminal Court can be involved.