WHAT EXACTLY DOES
THE WORD “GENOCIDE”
The question itself may seem to be unproblematic to answer at first, as the legitimate definition can quickly be found on the official site of the U.N. It is stated that according to Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention):
Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such:
Killing members of the group;
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
At first glance, this characterization makes a clear distinction between the crime of genocide and other crimes known to humanity. Yet looking into it further I can’t help but notice the rather narrow and dry formulation of such a factually diverse term, especially when applied to practice. And that is not at all a coincidence.
The road leading to the definition we have nowadays is a fairly long and complicated one, filled with ignorant as well as purposeful gaps that contribute to various issues many historians and international lawyers now face when following the war in Ukraine. And the historical reasoning behind all of this is even more ravaging, specifically in the context of the russia’s neocolonial and neoimperialist nature of warfare.
let us first take a step back to the roots of the term itself, namely its etymology and the so-called “original explanation”, created by the outstanding Polish lawyer Rafał Lemkin.
ETYMOLOGICALLY, THE WORD “GENOCIDE” CONSISTS OF
The ancient Greek prefix
meaning “race or tribe”
The Latin suffix
meaning “killing” and relating this new formation to the words like “homicide”.
As mentioned earlier, the creator of this term for such an entirely new conception, Rafał Lemkin, first
published that formation in 1944 in his book “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe”, where he collected all
normative legal acts of Nazi Germany that would testify to its the policy of persecution. In this
publication, however, the interpretation of the crime of genocide has a very broad approach
compared to the official definition we have today.
Firstly, Lemkin noted that the word “genocide” would indeed entail “the persecution of national, ethnic, racial, political, and other groups” as well as characterize the newly coined term in the following way:
“Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population, which is allowed to remain, or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and colonization of the area by the oppressor's own nationals.”
According to A. Dirk Moses, an Australian historian specializing in the history of genocide and intellectual history,
“RUSSIA’S CAMPAIGN AGAINST UKRAINE IS PRECISELY WHAT LEMKIN WAS TRYING TO CAPTURE WITH HIS NEW WORD”.
However, his widespread and inclusive definition was surprisingly not followed in the U.N. Genocide Convention of 1948. Instead, the acts linked to the crime of genocide were scattered to other international crimes, thus making the thread between them less clear and more confusing for ordinary people to trail. But why?
That is when our previous question comes back, with the answer being relatively simple yet immensely shocking – that was done so that certain states could wage colonial-style warfare.
And the Nuremberg trials established the roots behind such a “tragedy of international justice”.