What is the definition of genocide?

Russia has been forced to dismiss allegations that its troops have committed genocide in Ukraine after images of mass graves and civilian bodies emerged in the city of Bucha.

Western outrage intensified amid claims that Ukrainian civilians had been murdered, and EU leaders condemned “massacres”, “atrocities” and “possible genocide”. The Kremlin, meanwhile, dismissed the possibility that its troops were targeting civilians as they retreated from areas around Kyiv.

The term genocide was coined by the Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in his book in 1944 Axis rule in occupied Europeaccording to the United Nations. But what does that mean – and when is killing in war an act of genocide?

What is genocide?

The word genocide is composed of the Greek prefix comrademeaning race or tribe, and the Latin suffix cid, means to kill. The law was first codified in 1948 in the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Accordingly PBSthe treaty outlines five acts that may constitute genocide if committed “with intent to destroy an ethnic, national, racial or religious group”.

These kill members of the group; cause serious physical or mental harm; willful infliction of living conditions likely to bring about the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part; the imposition of measures to prevent births; and forced transfer of children.

To qualify as genocide, the actions “must be carried out with intent to eliminate an entire group of people,” the broadcaster added. Without demonstrable intent, a group or individual may instead be charged with “crimes against humanity” or “ethnic cleansing.”

What is wrong with this definition?

According to the BBCThe UN treaty has “come under attack from various quarters”, mainly from people who are “frustrated by the difficulty” of applying the term genocide to specific cases.

Among the main complaints is that the Convention excludes certain political and social – and not purely ethnic – groups; confines itself to direct actions against people and omits actions against the environment that nourishes the victims or their cultural specificity.

The most troubling problem, however, is that war crimes tribunals have struggled to establish a legal standard for genocidal intent. “Few perpetrators, with the notable exception of the Nazi regime, left explicit plans detailing their intentions to wipe out groups,” PBS said.

“Genocide differs from all other crimes in the motivation behind it,” said Alain Destexhe, former secretary-general of doctors sans limitsin his book Rwanda and Genocide in the 20th Century.

The waters are muddied by the misuse of the word, which “has fallen victim to a kind of verbal inflation, much like what happened to the word fascist,” he added.

This warning is echoed by Michael Ignatiev, former director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University BBC The described transatlantic slave trade is an example of the misuse of the term.

Slavery is often described as genocide, he said in public lectures, when in reality it was “a system of exploitation rather than extermination of the living.” What is the definition of genocide?

Fry Electronics Team

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