What is genocide?

We explain what genocide is, when this term arises and some examples. In addition, genocidal acts and their international regulation.

  1. What is genocide?

The genocide consists of a set of planned and coordinated actions that aim at the extermination or mental and physical injury of an ethnic, religious or national group.

A genocide violates some or all human rights , and can be executed with actions ranging from deprivation of means for subsistence to torture and mass murder.

Also, as defined by the United Nations a  genocide is a set of acts perpetrated in order to partially or completely destroy one community ethnic, religious or national. At first, the definition also included political groups , but it was because of the intense pressure from the Soviet Union that this category was eliminated.

Genocides are always acts of extreme hatred that seek the annihilation of an ethnic, religious or other group.

Studies state that only during the twentieth century the number of people who died from the genocides was 70 million.

The term is also related to crimes against humanity , defined in the London Charter in 1945, of which the Nazis were accused in the Nuremberg Courts.

The term genocide was not defined until 1944, when it was necessary to name the mass murders against communities or groups in some specific way. Let’s see how this term arises.

  1. When does the term genocide arise?

Genocide - Judicial record
The word genocide has appeared in court records as a descriptive term.

In 1944 a lawyer named Rafaél Lemkin, of Polish origin, coined the term to refer to anti-Semitic events in the European continent , carried out by the Nazis. That definition was included in his book ” The power of the axis in occupied Europe .”

For the creation of the term genocide, Greek and Latin bases were used, combining geno, from Greek, which means race with cidio, from Latin, which means murder.

The word genocide is not a legal term but it appeared in the proceedings of the trials as a descriptive term.

The United Nations considers genocide an international crime that must be prevented as well as sanctioned, it is intolerable, it implies a very serious crime against humanity.

  1. Examples of genocides

Jewish Genocide (Holocaust) : The Nazi regime, led by Adolf Hitler, tried to exterminate theJewish population of the European continent, carrying out a genocide more than 6 million Jews. The deaths were consummated by hanging, shooting, beating, extreme hunger, asphyxiation with poisonous gases, among others.

Genocide of Cambodia : Around 2 million people were massively murdered, between 1975 and 1979, by the communist regime(Khmer Rouge) under Pol Pot.

Genocide of Rwanda : About 1 million people were executed in 1994. It is recognized for having been the nation whose courts sanctioned the first conviction for sexual violence contemplated as an act of genocide for considering rape as torture.

Genocide of Guatemala : In the 80s, about 200,000 people were killed. In 2013, the former Head of State Rios Montt was convicted in Guatemala for crimes against humanity and genocide against the Mayan town of Ixil.

  1. Genocidal acts

Genocide - Kidnapping
The kidnapping and transfer of children is considered a genocidal act.

Among the acts considered genocidal are:

  • The kidnapping and transfer of children from the attacked group.
  • The forced submission to subhuman conditions that result in death .
  • The direct killing of members of the group of individuals.
  • The inflection of serious physical or mental injuries.
  • Reproductive interventions that prevent children from being born in the dominated group.
  1. International regulation on genocides

Spain is an example of a nation that extended the term, including criminal actions that seek the total or partial elimination of ethnic, religious, national and disabled groups.

However, we can say without exaggeration that France was the nation that most extended the legislation corresponding to the victims of the crimes of genocide by adding to these categories: “group determined from any other arbitrary criteria”.

Historians have also pronounced their firm rejection of genocides by calling them the highest degree of intercultural, intergroup and international violence.

The cruelty of those historical episodes was extreme and unprecedented. That is why crimes against humanity such as genocide are imprescriptible . This means that they cannot prescribe or lose validity as a criminal indictment over the years, regardless of the legislation of each nation. This is regulated in the War Crimes Convention of 1968.

  1. Characteristics of the genocides

The genocide tries to eliminate an entire group simultaneously. 

Although the term genocide is related to war , debates have been opened since the purpose of war is to disarm the enemy, or take control over some territory or resource, not eliminate it completely.

It is also possible to differentiate genocide from serial murder, since in the first one an attempt is made to eliminate an entire group simultaneously, and in the second, periodic and successive murders are committed.

It is even debated whether the use of weapons of mass destruction implies genocide or not. The term has few years of existence and its definition is not complete.

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