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Genocide happened at Auschwitz death camp
Genocide happened at Auschwitz death camp

Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction of an ethnic or national group. While precise definition varies among genocide scholars, the most prominent definition in international law is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). Article 2 of the CPPCG 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: 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; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

Coining of the term genocide

The term "genocide" was coined by Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959), a Polish-Jewish legal scholar, in 1943, from the roots genos (Greek for family, tribe or race) and -cide (Latin - occido - to massacre).

In 1933, Lemkin made a presentation to the Legal Council of the League of Nations conference on international criminal law in Madrid, for which he prepared an essay on the Crime of Barbarity as a crime against international law. The concept of the crime, which later evolved into the idea of genocide, was based mostly on the experience of the Assyrians massacred in Iraq on 11 August 1933. The event in Iraq reminded him of earlier similar events of the Armenian genocide during World War I. He presented his first proposal to outlaw such 'acts of barbarism' to the Legal Council of the League of Nations in Madrid the same year. However, the proposal failed and his work incurred the disapproval of the Polish government, which was at the time pursuing a policy of conciliation with Nazi Germany.

In 1944, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published Lemkin's most important work, entitled Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, in the United States. This book included an extensive legal analysis of German rule in countries occupied by Nazi Germany during the course of World War II, along with the definition of the term genocide. Lemkin's idea of genocide as an offense against international law was widely accepted by the international community and was one of the legal bases of the Nuremberg Trials (The indictment of the 24 Nazi leaders included in Count 3, that all the defendants "conducted deliberate and systematic genocide - namely, the extermination of racial and national groups..."). Lemkin presented a draft resolution for a Genocide Convention treaty to a number of countries in an effort to persuade them to sponsor the resolution. With the support of the United States, the resolution was placed before the General Assembly for a consideration. Lemkin said about the definition of genocide in its original adoption for international law at the Geneva Conventions:

Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.

Genocide as a crime under international law

In the wake of the Holocaust committed by the Nazis, Lemkin successfully campaigned for the universal acceptance of international laws, defining and forbidding genocide. This was achieved in 1948, with the promulgation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The CPPCG was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1948 and came into effect on 12 January 1951 (Resolution 260 (III)). It contains an internationally-recognized definition of genocide which was incorporated into the national criminal legislation of many countries, and was also adopted by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Convention (in article 2) 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.

- Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article II

The first draft of the Convention included political killings but the USSR did not accept that actions against groups identified as holding similar political opinion or social status, that would constitute genocide if carried out against an ethnic group, was genocide. So they were removed in a political and diplomatic compromise.

The Convention was manifestly adopted for humanitarian and civilizing purposes. Its objectives are to safeguard the very existence of certain human groups and to affirm and emphasize the most elementary principles of humanity and morality. In view of the rights involved, the legal obligations to refrain from genocide are recognized as erga omnes.

When the Convention was drafted, it was already envisaged that it would apply not only to then existing forms of genocide, but also "to any method that might be evolved in the future with a view to destroying the physical existence of a group". As emphasized in the preamble to the Convention, genocide has marred all periods of history, and it is this very tragic recognition that gives the concept its historical evolutionary nature.

The Convention must be interpreted in good faith, in accordance with the ordinary meaning of its terms, in their context, and in the light of its object and purpose. Moreover, the text of the Convention should be interpreted in such a way that a reason and a meaning can be attributed to every word. No word or provision may be disregarded or treated as superfluous, unless this is absolutely necessary to give effect to the terms read as a whole.

Genocide is a crime under international law regardless of "whether committed in time of peace or in time of war" (art. I). Thus, irrespective of the context in which it occurs (for example, peace time, internal strife, international armed conflict or whatever the general overall situation) genocide is a punishable international crime.

- UN Commission of Experts that examined violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

In part

The phrase "in whole or in part" has been subject to much discussion by scholars of international humanitarian law. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia found in Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstic - Trial Chamber I - Judgment - IT-98-33 (2001) ICTY8 (2 August 2001) that Genocide had been committed. In Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstic - Appeals Chamber - Judgment - IT-98-33 (2004) ICTY 7 (19 April 2004) paragraphs 8,9,10, and 11 addressed the issue of in part and found that "the part must be a substantial part of that group. The aim of the Genocide Convention is to prevent the intentional destruction of entire human groups, and the part targeted must be significant enough to have an impact on the group as a whole." The Appeals Chamber goes into details of other cases and the opinions of respected commentators on the Genocide Convention to explain how they came to this conclusion.

The judges go on to say in paragraph 12 that "The determination of when the targeted part is substantial enough to meet this requirement may involve a number of considerations. The numeric size of the targeted part of the group is the necessary and important starting point, though not in all cases the ending point of the inquiry. The number of individuals targeted should be evaluated not only in absolute terms, but also in relation to the overall size of the entire group. In addition to the numeric size of the targeted portion, its prominence within the group can be a useful consideration. If a specific part of the group is emblematic of the overall group, or is essential to its survival, that may support a finding that the part qualifies as substantial within the meaning of Article 4 [of the Tribunal's Statute]."

In paragraph 13 the judges raise the issue of the perpetrators' access to the victims: "The historical examples of genocide also suggest that the area of the perpetrators’ activity and control, as well as the possible extent of their reach, should be considered. ... The intent to destroy formed by a perpetrator of genocide will always be limited by the opportunity presented to him. While this factor alone will not indicate whether the targeted group is substantial, it can - in combination with other factors - inform the analysis."

CPPCG coming into force

After the minimum 20 countries became parties to the Convention, it came into force as international law on 12 January 1951. At that time however, only two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) were parties to the treaty: France and the Republic of China. Eventually the Soviet Union ratified in 1954, the United Kingdom in 1970, the People's Republic of China in 1983 (having replaced the Taiwan-based Republic of China on the UNSC in 1971), and the United States in 1988. This long delay in support for the Genocide Convention by the world's most powerful nations caused the Convention to languish for over four decades. Only in the 1990s did the international law on the crime of genocide begin to be enforced.

Security Council responsibility to protect

UN Security Council Resolution 1674, adopted by the United Nations Security Council on 28 April 2006, "reaffirms the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity". The resolution commits the Council to action to protect civilians in armed conflict.

Criticisms of the CPPCG and other definitions of genocide

Much debate about genocides revolves around the proper definition of the word "genocide." The exclusion of social and political groups as targets of genocide in the CPPCG legal definition has been criticized by some historians and sociologists, for example M. Hassan Kakar in his book The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982 argues that the international definition of genocide is too restricted , and that it should include political groups or any group so defined by the perpetrator and quotes Chalk and Jonassohn: "Genocide is a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator."

Helen Fein define the term of Genocide as a "sustained purposeful action by a perpetrator to physically destroy a collectivity directly or indirectly, through interdiction of the biological and social reproduction of group members, sustained regardless of the surrender or lack of threat offered by the victim."

Barbara Harff and Ted Gurr defined genocide as "the promotion and execution of policies by a state or its agents which result in the deaths of a substantial portion of a group ...[when] the victimized groups are defined primarily in terms of their communal characteristics, i.e., ethnicity, religion or nationality." Harff and Gurr also differentiate between genocides and politicides by the characteristics by which members of a group are identified by the state. In genocides the victimized groups are defined primarily in terms of their communal characteristics, i.e., ethnicity, religion or nationality. In politicides the victim groups are defined primarily in terms of their hierarchical position or political opposition to the regime and dominant groups. Daniel D. Polsby and Don B. Kates, Jr. state that "... we follow Harff's distinction between genocides and 'pogroms,' which she describes as 'short-lived outbursts by mobs, which, although often condoned by authorities, rarely persist.' If the violence persists for long enough, however, Harff argues, the distinction between condonation and complicity collapses."

Steven T. Katz stated that "the concept of genocide applies only when there is an actualized intent, however successfully carried out, to physically destroy an entire group (as such a group is defined by the perpetrators)".

According to R. J. Rummel, genocide has 3 different meanings. The ordinary meaning is murder by government of people due to their national, ethnic, racial, or religious group membership. The legal meaning of genocide refers to the international treaty, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This also includes nonkillings that in the end eliminate the group, such as preventing births or forcibly transferring children out of the group to another group. A generalized meaning of genocide is similar to the ordinary meaning but also includes government killings of political opponents or otherwise intentional murder. It is to avoid confusion regarding what meaning is intended that Rummel created the term democide for the third meaning.

A major criticism of the international community's response to the Rwandan Genocide was that it was reactive, not proactive. The international community has developed a mechanism for prosecuting the perpetrators of genocide but has not developed the will or the mechanisms for intervening in a genocide as it happens. Critics point to the Darfur conflict and suggest that if anyone is found guilty of genocide after the conflict either by prosecutions brought in the International Criminal Court or in an ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal, this will confirm this perception

International prosecution of genocide (ad hoc tribunals)

All signatories to the CPPCG are required to prevent and punish acts of genocide, both in peace and wartime, though some barriers make this enforcement difficult. In particular, some of the signatories - namely, Bahrain, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, the United States, Vietnam, Yemen, and Yugoslavia - signed with the proviso that no claim of genocide could be brought against them at the International Court of Justice without their consent. Despite official protests from other signatories (notably Cyprus and Norway) on the ethics and legal standing of these reservations, the immunity from prosecution they grant has been invoked from time to time, as when the United States refused to allow a charge of genocide brought against it by Yugoslavia following the 1999 Kosovo War.

It is commonly accepted that, at least since World War II, genocide has been illegal under customary international law as a peremptory norm, as well as under conventional international law. Acts of genocide are generally difficult to establish, for prosecution, since intent, demonstrating a chain of accountability, has to be established. International criminal courts and tribunals function primarily because the states involved are incapable or unwilling to prosecute crimes of this magnitude themselves.

Nuremberg Trials

The Nuremberg Trials is the general name for two sets of trials of Nazis involved in World War II and the Holocaust. The trials were held in the German city of Nuremberg from 1945 to 1949 at the Nuremberg Palace of Justice . The first and more famous of these trials was the Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal or IMT, which tried 24 of the most important captured (or still believed to be alive) leaders of Nazi Germany. It was held from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946.

Former Yugoslavia

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is a court under the auspices of the United Nations for the prosecution of genocide and certain other types of crime committed in former Yugoslavia since 1991. The tribunal functions as an ad-hoc court and is located in The Hague. It was established by Resolution 827 of the UN Security Council, which was passed on May 25, 1993.

Some of those found guilty of Genocide or crimes against humanity are:

  • Radislav Krstic, Bosnian Serb, Bosnian Serb Army general; originally sentenced to forty-six years in prison; thirty-five years on appeal for Srebrenica genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war.
  • Milan Babic (deceased), Krajina Serb , prime minister of Republika Srpska Krajina (Serb self proclaimed entity in Croatia); sentenced to thirteen years for his part in ethnic cleansing.
  • Vidoje Blagojevic, Bosnian Serb, a Bosnian Serb Army officer, sentenced to 18 years for involvement in the Srebrenica genocide.
  • Dragan Jokic, Bosnian Serb, sentenced to 9 years for involvement in Srebrenica massacre.
  • Drazen Erdemovic, Bosnian Croat, was sentenced to ten years in prison for taking part in Srebrenica genocide; his sentence was reduced to five years on appeal.

In February 2007 in a ruling on the culpability of Serbia in the Srebrenica genocide in a case brought by Bosnia to the International Court of Justice, Judge Rosalyn Higgins, the president of a court, said: "The court finds that the acts of genocide at Srebrenica cannot be attributed to the respondent's (Serbia) state organs." However the court added that the leaders of Serbia failed to comply with its international obligation to prevent the killings and punish those responsible and rejected Bosnia's claim for reparations.


The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is a court under the auspices of the United Nations for the prosecution of offenses committed in Rwanda during the genocide which occurred there during April, 1994, commencing on April 6. The ICTR was created on November 8, 1994 by the Security Council of the United Nations in order to judge those people responsible for the acts of genocide and other serious violations of the international law performed in the territory of Rwanda, or by Rwandan citizens in nearby states, between January 1 and December 31, 1994.

So far, the ICTR has finished nineteen trials and convicted twenty five accused persons. Another twenty five persons are still on trial. Nineteen are awaiting trial in detention. Ten are still at large. The first trial, of Jean-Paul Akayesu, began in 1997. Jean Kambanda, interim Prime Minister, pleaded guilty.

International prosecution of genocide (International Criminal Court)

To date all international prosecutions for genocide have been brought in specially convened international tribunals. Since 2002, the International Criminal Court can exercise its jurisdiction if national courts are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute genocide, thus being a "court of last resort," leaving the primary responsibility to exercise jurisdiction over alleged criminals to individual states. Due to the United States concerns over the ICC, the United States prefers to continue to use specially convened international tribunals for such investigations and potential prosecutions.


The on-going conflict in Darfur, Sudan, which started in 2003, was declared a "genocide" by United States Secretary of State Colin Powell on September 9, 2004 in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Since that time however, no other permanent member of the UN Security Council has followed suit. In fact, in January 2005, an International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur, authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1564 of 2004, issued a report to the Secretary-General stating that "the Government of the Sudan has not pursued a policy of genocide." Nevertheless, the Commission cautioned that "The conclusion that no genocidal policy has been pursued and implemented in Darfur by the Government authorities, directly or through the militias under their control, should not be taken in any way as detracting from the gravity of the crimes perpetrated in that region. International offences such as the crimes against humanity and war crimes that have been committed in Darfur may be no less serious and heinous than genocide." In March 2005, the Security Council formally referred the situation in Darfur to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, taking into account the Commission report but without mentioning any specific crimes. Two permanent members of the Security Council, the United States and China, abstained from the vote on the referral resolution. As of his fourth report to the Security Council, the Prosecutor has found "reasonable grounds to believe that the individuals identified [in the UN Security Council Resolution 1593] have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes," but did not find sufficient evidence to prosecute for genocide

Genocide as a crime under domestic law


In 1993 Belgium had adopted universal jurisdiction, allowing prosecution of genocide, committed by anybody in the world. The practice was widely applauded by many human rights groups, because it made legal action possible to perpetrators who did not have a direct link with Belgium, and whose victims were not Belgian citizens or residents. Ten years later in 2003, Belgium repealed the law on universal jurisdiction (under pressure from the United States). However, some cases which had already started continued. These included those concerning the Rwandan genocide, and complaints filed against the Chadian ex-President Hissène Habré.

In a Belgium court case lodged on 18 June 2001 by 23 survivors of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres, the prosecution alleged that Ariel Sharon, former Israeli defense minister (and Israel's Prime Minister in 2001-2006), as well as other Israelis committed a number of crimes including genocide, because "all the constituent elements of the crime of genocide, as defined in the 1948 Convention and as reproduced in article 6 of the ICC Statute and in article 1§1 of the law of 16 June 1993,29 are present". This allegation was not tested in Belgium court because on 12 February 2003 the Court of Cassation (Belgian Supreme Court) ruled that under international customary law, acting heads of state and government can not become the object of proceedings before criminal tribunals in foreign state (although for the crime of genocide they could be the subject of proceedings of an international tribunal). This ruling was a reiteration of a decision made a year earlier by the International Court of Justice on 14 February, 2002. Following these ruling in June 2003 the Belgian Justice Ministry decided to start a procedure to transfer the case to Israel.


The Helmet Massacre of the Tikuna people took place in 1988, and was initially treated as homicide. Since 1994 it has been treated by the Brazillian courts as a genocide. Thirteen men were convicted of genocide in 2001. In November 2004 at the appeal before Brazil's federal court, the man initially found guilty of hiring men to carry out the genocide was acquitted, and the other men had their initial sentences of 15-25 years reduced to 12 years.

In a news letter published on 7 August 2006 the Indianist Missionary Council reported that: "In a plenary session, the [Brizillian] Supreme Federal Court (STF) reaffirmed that the crime known as the Haximu Massacre [perpetrated on the Yanomami Indians in 1993] was a genocide and that the decision of a federal court to sentence miners to 19 years in prison for genocide in connection with other offenses, such as smuggling and illegal mining, is valid. It was a unanimous decision made during the judgment of Extraordinary Appeal (RE) 351487 today, the 3rd, in the morning by justices of the Supreme Court". Commenting on the case the NGO Survival International said "The UN convention on genocide, ratified by Brazil, states that the killing 'with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group' is genocide. The Supreme Court's ruling is highly significant and sends an important warning to those who continue to commit crimes against indigenous peoples in Brazil."


In Canada the War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act makes it an offence under Canadian law to commit genocide, whether inside or outside Canada. A person may be charged under this law if, at the time of the crime, the perpetrator was a Canadian citizen or was employed by Canada, if the victim was a Canadian citizen or a citizen of a country allied to Canada, if the perpetrator was a citizen of, or employed by, a country that Canada was engaged in armed conflict with or if, at any time after committing the crime, the perpetrator enters Canadian territory.

This Act is in effect the Enabling Legislation that applies the articles of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention of Genocide, which was passed by the UN General Assmebly in 1948. However, Canada effectively blocked any such enabling legislation until the year 2000, rendering any application of the Convention to Canada ineffective. As a result, many victims of apparent genocide in Canada, such as aboriginal people and inmates of the infamous "Indian Residential Schools" where more than 50,000 children died between 1895 and 1984, have been denied legal redress for these crimes. (Information: www.hiddenfromhistory.org; see also "Hidden from History: The Canadian Holocaust", 2005).


Fiji has enacted laws that address the matter of genocide in Fiji in the 1960s and 1970s and are contained in Chapter VIII of the Fiji Islands Penal Code.


Genocide has been criminalized as a separate crime in Finland since 1995 and carries a penalty from 4 years to life sentence. Attempted genocide or planning it are punishable. Genocide, as a number of other crimes of international nature is inside Finnish universal jurisdiction, but under Chapter 1, Section 12 of the Penal Code, incidents of it abroad may not be investigated unless the Prosecutor General gives an order to do this.

The group "Falun Dafa in Europe" on their website report that in 2003 "the Finnish human right lawyer Mr. Erkki Kannsto filed a criminal lawsuit against Luo Gan with the National Criminal Prosecutor Office and the Police Department in Helsinki on September 11 2003, on the charges of "cruel torture" and "genocide." ... The Finnish Office of the Prosecutor General and the Police Department immediately carried out an investigation into the case after accepting the lawsuit". However, no further action was taken by Finnish authorities before Luo Gan returned to China.

In April 2007 a Rwandan refugee was arrested in Porvoo, Finland as a suspect of organizing and participating a local massacre in Nyakizu, Rwanda, related to Rwandan Genocide in 1994. The man was arrested after a report by Human Rights Watch listing suspects of genocide living abroad, in which the man was mentioned, got publicity in Finland. As of May 2007, the man is on remand imprisonment while Finnish Police is investigating the case.


In December 2005, despite attempts by the French Defence Ministry to stop him, Jacques Baillet, the prosecutor at the army tribunal, began an investigation into the role of the French army during the genocide in Rwanda. The 2,500 member French peace keeping force that was sent to Rwanda in 1994 by François Mitterrand is accused not only of not stopping the genocide but also of actively participating in it. The allegations of participation are brought by two witnesses who the prosecutor thinks are credible enough to warrant an inquiry. Aurea Mukakalisa says she saw Hutu militia enter a camp set up by the French army and designated Tutsis who were forced to leave the camp by French soldiers. She says that she saw militia kill the Tutsis who left the camp and that some Tutsis were killed by French soldiers. A second witness, Innocent Gisanura, says that French soldiers remained in their vehicles and did not intervene in the killing of Tutsis by members of the Hutu militia in the Biserero forests.


Genocide is a crime under the Penal Code of Germany; Section 16, Crimes Against Life; § 220a. The crime of genocide is one of a few German laws that regardless of the law of the place of commission, is also applicable to acts committed outside of Germany.

Prior to the 2007 ICJ ruling on the Bosnian Genocide German courts handed down several convictions for genocide during the Bosnian War. Novislav Djajic was indicted for participation in genocide, but the Higher Regional Court failed to find that there was sufficient certainty, for a criminal conviction, that he had intended to commit genocide. Nevertheless Djajic was found guilty of 14 cases of murder and one case of attempted murder. At Djajic's appeal on 23 May 1997, the Bavarian Appeals Chamber found that acts of genocide were committed in June 1992, confined within the administrative district of Foca. The Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht) of Dusseldorf, in September 1997, handed down a genocide conviction against Nikola Jorgic, a Bosnian Serb from the Doboj region who was the leader of a paramilitary group located in the Doboj region. He was sentenced to four terms of life imprisonment for his involvement in genocidal actions that took place in regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, other than Srebrenica; and "On 29 November 1999, the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht) of Dusseldorf condemned Maksim Sokolovic to 9 years in prison for aiding and abetting the crime of genocide and for grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions";


Dutch law restricts prosecutions for genocide to its nationals. On December 23, 2005 a Dutch court ruled in a case brought against Frans van Anraat for supplying chemicals to Iraq, that "[it] thinks and considers legally and convincingly proven that the Kurdish population meets the requirement under the genocide conventions as an ethnic group. The court has no other conclusion: that these attacks were committed with the intent to destroy the Kurdish population of Iraq" and because he supplied the chemicals before 16 March 1988, the date of the Halabja poison gas attack, he is guilty of a war crime but not guilty of complicity in genocide.


Under Spanish law, judges have the right to try foreigners suspected of genocidal acts that have taken place outside Spain. In June 2003 Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón jailed Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, (also known as Miguel Angel Cavallo), a former Argentine naval officer, extradited from Mexico to Spain pending his trial on charges of genocide and terrorism relating to the years of Argentina's military dictatorship.

On 11 January 2006 it was reported that the Spanish High Court will investigate whether seven former Chinese officials, including the former President of China Jiang Zemin and former Prime Minister Li Peng participated in a genocide in Tibet. This investigation follows a Spanish Constitutional Court (26 September 2005) ruling that Spanish courts could try genocide cases even if they did not involve Spanish nationals.The court proceedings in the case brought by the Madrid-based Committee to Support Tibet against several former Chinese officials was opened by the Judge on 6 June, 2006, and on the same day China denounced the Spanish court's investigation into claims of genocide in Tibet as an interference in its internal affairs and dismissed the allegations as "sheer fabrication".

In 1999, Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchu brought a case against the military leadership in a Spanish Court. Six officials, among them Efrain Rios Montt and Oscar Humberto Mejia, were formally charged on 7 July 2006 to appear in the Spanish National Court after Spain's Constitutional Court ruled in 2005 that Spanish courts can exercise universal jurisdiction over war crimes committed during the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996)


In Sweden genocide was criminalized in 1964. According to the Swedish law any act intended to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such, and which is punished according to the criminal act is punished as genocide and carries a penalty from 4 years to life sentence. The Swedish legislation simply noticed that any severe common crime which is committed in order to destroy an ethnic group can be considered genocide, no matter what specific crime it is. Also intent, preparation or conspiring to genocide, and also failure to reveal such a crime is punishable as specified in penal code chapter 23, which is applicable to all crimes.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has incorporated the International Criminal Court Act into domestic law. It is not retroactive so it applies only to events after May 2001 and genocide charges can be filed only against British nationals and residents. According to Peter Carter QC, chairman of the Bar's human rights committee "It means that British mercenaries who support regimes that commit war crimes can expect prosecution".

United States

United States federal law recognizes the crime of genocide where it was committed within the U.S. or by a national of the U.S. (18 U.S.C. 1091). A person found guilty of genocide can face the death penalty or life imprisonment. Persons found guilty of genocide may be denied entry or deported from the U.S. (8 U.S.C. 1101, 1182, 1227).

Genocide in history

Main article: Genocides in history The preamble to the CPPCG not only states that "genocide is a crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations and condemned by the civilized world", but that "at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity".

Determining which historical events constitute genocide and which are merely criminal or inhuman behavior is not a clear-cut matter. Furthermore, in nearly every case where accusations of genocide have circulated, partisans of various sides have fiercely disputed the interpretation and details of the event, often to the point of promoting wildly different versions of the facts. An accusation of genocide is certainly not taken lightly and will almost always be controversial. Revisionist attempts to deny or challenge genocides (mainly the Holocaust) are, in some countries, illegal.

The manipulation of historical accounts is a characteristic feature of genocide. Attempts to discredit accounts of the magnitude of atrocities, to dispute the historical record or its significance as a moral or criminal matter, are the final acts of obliterating a people or culture (see denial, below). The Holocaust has been unusual among genocides in history in the persistence of a historical perspective of moral outrage.

Stages of genocide and efforts to prevent it

According to the President of Genocide Watch, Gregory Stanton, genocide develops in eight stages that are "predictable but not inexorable". The FBI has found somewhat similar stages for hate groups.

Stage Characteristics Preventive measures
People are divided into "us and them". "The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop universalistic institutions that transcend... divisions."
"When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups..." "To combat symbolization, hate symbols can be legally forbidden as can hate speech".
"One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases." "Hate radio stations should be shut down, and hate propaganda banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished."
"Genocide is always organized... Special army units or militias are often trained and armed..." "To combat this stage, membership in these militias should be outlawed."
"Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda..." "Prevention may mean security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups..."
"Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity..." "At this stage, a Genocide Alert must be called..."
"It is "extermination" to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human." "At this stage, only rapid and overwhelming armed intervention can stop genocide. Real safe areas or refugee escape corridors should be established with heavily armed international protection."
"The perpetrators... deny that they committed any crimes..." "The response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts."

Apart from such structural approaches to analysis and action, community initiatives may arise to seek in their own place to reduce prospect of further genocide, as has been the case in the African Great Lakes region with Fondation chirezi

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