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Defining Genocide

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Chapter Summary

The definition in the 1948 Convention is narrow in two important respects. It protects four enumerated groups, in contrast, for example, with the cognate concept of crimes against humanity which contemplates "any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender . . . or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law". The legitimacy of the definition in the 1948 Convention is sometimes challenged by reference to the conception of the crime set out by Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the word 'genocide', in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Finally, there is the stigma associated with the term genocide, something that may be lost if the meaning is diluted. In contrast with broad concepts like 'mass atrocity', or 'crimes against humanity', genocide as defined in the 1948 Convention is focused on the right to life, and on the prohibition of racial discrimination.

Keywords: 1948 Convention; customary international law; genocide; International Criminal Court; mass atrocity; prohibition of racial discrimination; Raphael Lemkin; Security Council



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