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Genocide involves the calculated targeting and killing of a specific ethnic group, or any huge deliberate killing of civilians carried out as a consequence of government policy. The word "genocide" was coined by Rafael Lemkin in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe to describe the mass killings of European Jews by the Nazi regime. (See Samantha Power, A Problem From Hell.)

The term applies mostly to mass killings since the beginning of the 20th century, although throughout history there have been many cases of bloodshed like this. Even in the Bible, there was the Israelite conquest of Canaan, where God instructed them " not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy the Lord your God has commanded you..." (Deuteronomy 20:16).


20th century genocides

Major 20th century examples include:

Communist regimes killed 60 million in the 20th century, according to Le Monde and more than 100 million people according to The Black Book of Communism.

International conventions

In 1948, The United Nations Genocide Convention defined "genocide":

Article 2 In the present 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:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article 3 The following acts shall be punishable:

  1. Genocide;
  2. Conspiracy to commit genocide;
  3. Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
  4. Attempt to commit genocide;
  5. Complicity in genocide.

The first ever conviction for the crime of genocide was handed down by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the case of Radislav Krstc, a Bosnian Serb general who commanded the forces that killed over 7500 Muslim men and boys at Srebenica.[2]

Darfur and the United Nations

Despite this lip service the United Nations has failed to recognize the events in the Darfur region of Sudan as genocide. Amnesty International, and the African Union likewise only acknowledge the "tragedy" in Darfur but refuse to characterize the situation as genocide. Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) director Jean-Hervé Bradol called the term genocide "inappropriate" and its deputy emergency director Dr. Mercedes Taty said, "I don't think that we should be using the word 'genocide' to describe this conflict."[3]

The European Union and the United States government both officially recognize Darfur as genocide. A UN commission called it "crimes against humanity".[4]

Further reading

  • Carmichael, Cathie. Genocide Before the Holocaust (2009)
  • Charny, Israel W. ed. Encyclopedia of Genocide (2 vol. 1999)
  • Shelton, Dinah, ed. Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity (3 vol. 2004)


  3. [1]
  4. Government forces and militias conducted indiscriminate attacks, including killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and forced displacement, throughout Darfur. These acts were conducted on a widespread and systematic basis, and therefore may amount to crimes against humanity. War in Darfur
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