Genocide – the gravest crime in international law

Agence France Presse
May 10, 2013 Friday 11:44 PM GMT

Genocide – the gravest crime in international law

THE HAGUE, May 10 2013

Genocide, which former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt was
convicted of Friday, is the gravest crime in international
humanitarian law — and also the most difficult to prove.

Derived from the Greek word “genos”, for race or tribe, and the suffix
“cide” from the Latin for “to kill”; genocide is defined by the United
Nations as an “act committed with intent to destroy in whole or in
part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”
The word was coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who took
refuge in the United States, to describe crimes committed by Nazi
Germany during the Holocaust.

It was used for the first time within a legal framework by an
international military tribunal at Nuremberg to try Nazi leaders for
their crimes in 1945. However, those accused were eventually convicted
on charges of crimes against humanity.

Genocide has been recognised within international law since 1948, with
the advent of the UN Convention.

The massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915 was
recognised in 1985 as genocide by the United Nations.

But even though the European Parliament recognised the Armenian
genocide in 1987, only France, Switzerland, Belgium and Greece have
followed suit in Europe.

The Rwandan genocide, in which the UN said some 800,000 Tutsis and
moderate Hutus were murdered in 1994, led to the creation of the
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Arusha, Tanzania.

It has handed out around 20 convictions since 1998 for the crime of
genocide and complicity.

The massacre of almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb
forces at Srebrenica, in July 1995 during the Bosnian war, was
recognised as genocide by the UN’s highest judicial organ, the
International Court of Justice in 2007.

The Balkans war crimes court, the International Criminal Tribunal for
the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), has convicted several accused of
genocide — and several trials, including that of former Bosnian Serb
military leader Ratko Mladic, are still underway.

In Phnom Penh, two former leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime
from 1975-79 are currently on trial for genocide and war crimes before
a UN-sponsored tribunal.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International
Criminal Court (ICC) on an arrest warrant for genocide related to
crimes committed against Darfur’s civilian population.

The Hague-based ICC, created in 1992, is the only permanent
international tribunal to try the perpetrators of genocide.

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