Implementing International Humanitarian Law: From the Ad Hoc Tribunals to a Permanent International Criminal Court

By Yusuf Aksar | Go to book overview

5

The Crime of Genocide

Introduction

The crime of genocide 1 is universally prohibited by the conventional and customary rules of international law, 'whether committed in time of peace or in time of war'. 2

The conventional base of the crime of genocide is the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. 3The adoption of the ICC Statute should also be considered as constituting another treaty base for this crime since giving jurisdiction to the ICC over the crime of genocide to try and punish responsible individuals in this regard. 4

1. The term 'genocide' was coined, for the first time in international law, by Raphael Lemkin who combined the Greek word genos (race, tribe) with the French suffix cide (from the Latin caedere, to kill) (Lemkin, R., Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944), p. 79). According to Lemkin genocide means 'the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group…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, the 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 is directed against the national group as entity and the actions involved are directed against the individuals, not in their individual capacity but as members of the national group' (p. 79).

Undoubtedly, the work of Lemkin guided the international community to adopt the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 (hereinafter the Genocide Convention or the Convention). Even before the adoption of the Genocide Convention, the impact of Lemkin's approach to the crime of genocide can be examined in the UN General Assembly Resolution (96) (I) of 11 December 1946. By this, the UN General Assembly states 'that genocide is a crime under international law which the civilised world condemns-and for the commission of which principals and accomplices, whether private individuals, public officials or statesmen, and whether the crime is committed on religious, racial, political or any other grounds-are punishable'.

In this context, also see Lemkin, R., 'Genocide as a Crime under International Law' (1947), 41 AJIL, p. 145.

2. Art. 1 of the Genocide Convention.

3. The Genocide Convention, 78 UNTS 277 opened for signature on 8 December 1948 and entered into force on 12 January 1951.

4. Art. 6 of the ICC Statute (known as Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which was adopted by the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the

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