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  • Kaylin Kim

When can we call something a genocide?

Updated: May 25

By combining the term geno, which is Greek for race/tribe, and cide, derived from the Latin word killing, the term genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish lawyer, who wanted to describe the murders of Jewish communities by the Nazis during the Holocaust. In 1946, the UN officially recognized genocide as a crime under international law. In the 1948 Genocide Convention, it was codified as an independent crime. 

According to the Genocide Convention, a genocide is considered to be any acts committed with intent to destroy/harm a part or whole of a national, ethnical, religious or racial 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.

Despite having such standards for when to refer to a situation as a genocide, debates on whether or not certain conflicts should be recognized as a genocide continue to rage on. 

The Holocaust

With over six million Jewish people murdered, the Holocaust was one of the most horrific war crimes to ever be committed and is one of the most widely recognized/accepted genocides worldwide. Adolf Hitler, with the help of the Nazis, orchestrated the destruction of millions of Jewish lives, manipulated centuries of anti-semitism, and used it to rise in power and become a dictator. However, they didn’t stop there; Hitler and his followers also killed millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, gay men, disabled people, Slavic and Roma people, and Communists who they believed were “inferior”. By disguising their heinous murders as the evacuation of Jewish communities from land that rightfully and originally belonged to non-Jewish Germans, Hitler and the Nazis were easily able to execute their horrifying missions. Prisoners lived in poor conditions where they were experimented on, taken into camps, coerced into labor, brutally killed, and were then easily disposed of. Most historians, if not all, agree that the Holocaust was a terrifying genocide, as it meets most/all of the criteria needed to recognize the conflict as a genocide. 

Russian-Ukrainian Conflict

Is Russia committing genocide in Ukraine? Although it the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has not been officially recognized as a genocide, discussion on whether or not Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine are genocidical have risen to the surface. In 2022, Eugene Finkel, a Ukrainian-born political scientist and expert on genocide and mass violence, stated that while he was initially reluctant in labeling the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a genocide, he now states, “‘There are actions, there is intent. It's as genocide as it gets. Pure, simple and for all to see.’” Russia has committed mass civilian murders in the town of Bucha, and has shelled hospitals, schools, and thousands of homes in Ukraine. These horrifying war crimes have caused people to discuss the possibility of the beginning of a genocide, but many said that it had already begun.

Two main war crimes Russia was responsible for were the attacks on civilian infrastructure, which were far from the battlefields, and the kidnapping of Ukrainian children to make them Russian by reeducating them. These crimes are explicitly components of the Genocide Convention that was written in December of 1948. 

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians began around October of 2023. Many opinions regarding whether or not this is a genocide has been deliberated whether shown through protests, or in court. On January 26th, the International Court of Justice ordered that Israel take measures to reduce the amount of civilian casualties in Gaza in order to prevent the genocide of Palestinians. This case was brought to court by South Africa and indicated that the court believed genocide was occurring in Gaza. This ruling was released before a proper trial took place. According to the Genocide Convention, a genocide is when the whole or part of a specific group is targeted to be harmed, killed, or injured. Former South African judge Adela Hassim stated that Israel was committing 4 out of 5 acts in Article II of the Genocide Convention. 

On the same day this case was released, another case, Defense for Children International-Palestine v. Biden was brought to court. In a U.S. federal court in Oakland, California, an international N.G.O., Defense for Children International-Palestine, claimed that the Biden Administration was violating the Genocide Convention by providing weapons and military equipment to Israel Defense Forces in Gaza. This case was a three hour long testimony about Biden’s actions in regards to violating the Genocide Convention and supporting Israel in times of desperate measures in Palestine, Gaza. Whether or not everyone agrees on whether or not these actions truly are genocides, people continue to campaign/protest, support projects, and share their opinions in hopes of bringing their ideas and view to light and make an impact on society.

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