Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

In Depth

Sudan

The Genocide Convention

Last Updated September 18, 2006

What is the Genocide Convention?

Officially called the "Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide," it was passed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948 and came into effect in January 1951.

The convention says that "genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war is a crime under international law" which the parties to the convention "undertake to punish and prevent."

It defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group" by:

  • Killing members of the group.
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

How did the term "genocide" come about?

The Genocide Convention came about largely through the efforts of one man, Raphael Lemkin. Lemkin is also credited with coining the term "genocide." Lemkin was a Polish Jew who first began to warn the world about Adolf Hitler's plans to attack Jews in Europe as early as 1933.

He was largely ignored and in 1939, after the Nazis invaded Poland, he was forced to flee to the United States. When he tried to warn U.S. government officials about the Holocaust he was again ignored, with officials maintaining that his claims of what was happening in German-occupied Europe were "rumours."

Then Lemkin was inspired by a speech by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that described what Germany was doing in Europe as "a crime without a name." In 1944, he published a long, scholarly account of what was then known about the Holocaust, including copies of Hitler's anti-Jewish decrees. It was called Axis Rule.

In the book Lemkin introduced a new word "genocide" describing a crime that went beyond murder to the annihilation of a people. Within a week of publication of the book, the Roosevelt administration released a statement that it now had evidence to "substantiate" the facts of the Holocaust. Then the news media plucked the term "genocide" from the book reviews and began using it in news coverage.

The Genocide Convention

In the years after the Second World War, the new United Nations began work to update what are called "the laws and customs of war." While negotiators worked to update the Geneva Conventions that set the rules for warfare, Lemkin began a major lobbying effort at the UN to create a law that would outlaw – if not prevent – new attempts to wipe out a people.

A year after the war, in December 1946, and after a debate over whether to use the narrow term "extermination" or Lemkin's wider "genocide," the UN passed a resolution calling for a new convention, and the secretary general asked Lemkin to write the first draft.

It took almost two years of debate for the United Nations to agree on a definition, but on Dec. 9, 1948, before the Cold War began to split the organization, the General Assembly unanimously adopted the Genocide Convention.

Lemkin then turned his energy to making sure that the convention was ratified. By Oct. 16, 1950, 20 countries had ratified and the Genocide Convention became international law. Canada ratified the convention on Jan. 12, 1951.

There was one key exception. The United States initially refused to ratify the convention, arguing, as it does now against the International Criminal Court, that it might be unfairly used to target Americans. The convention fell off the American agenda until one senator, William Proxmire, pushed over the years to have it ratified. He made 3,211 speeches before he was partially successful.

One reason the convention was ratified by the Americans was that then president Ronald Reagan was embarrassed by the controversy over his visit to a German war cemetery that contained the remains of members of the Waffen SS; after the visit the Reagan administration pushed the ratification to mollify critics.

The U.S. Senate finally ratified the convention in 1986, 40 years after it was first drafted, but, as Samantha Power says in her book The Problem from Hell, it was "so laden with caveats that it carried next to no force," restrictions pushed by conservative senators such as Jesse Helms, Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar. It officially became U.S. law in November 1988.

Enforcing the convention from Saddam to Sudan

So far, the Genocide Convention has had the opposite effect to what Lemkin intended. Power and other critics point out the convention does not give governments the numbers of dead or displaced required to constitute genocide, so they have used the wording of the convention to avoid enforcing it.

The slaughter in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge had occurred before the U.S. ratified the convention, but a year after the ratification, in March 1987, Iraq's Saddam Hussein began a campaign against the Kurds, which included poison gas attacks and the displacement of thousands. Although the United States now calls the campaign genocide, it didn't at the time because officially there was not enough proof that Saddam was committing genocide against the Kurds.

The U.S. and other nations used similar arguments in both Rwanda and Bosnia, saying there was not enough information, or that what was going on did not fit the legal definition of genocide. The Clinton administration, which was wary of intervention after the collapse of the U.S. mission in Somalia, had a deliberate policy of avoiding use of the term genocide in references to Rwanda, even though 800,000 people were killed in the first 100 days of the civil war.

On Sept. 2, 1998, a Rwandan mayor, Jean-Paul Akayesu, became the first man convicted of genocide by an international tribunal for directing and inciting local mobs to rape and murder Tutsis. Even in that case, there were legal arguments whether or not what happened in Rwanda was genocide. The tribunal eventually ruled that any "stable group" that was targeted could be subject to genocide, a definition that did not satisfy most critics even though it did narrow the options for politicians who wanted to avoid using the term.

Will Darfur be different?

On Sept. 9, 2004, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the Senate foreign relations committee to testify about the killing and displacement of people in the western region of Sudan known as Darfur.

Powell told the senators that an investigation by U.S. officials had found a "pattern of atrocities: Killings, rapes, burning of villages committed by Jinjaweed [militias] and government forces against non-Arab villagers� [were] a co-ordinated effort, not just random violence." He then said "the evidence leads us to the conclusion, the United States to the conclusion, that genocide has occurred and may still be occurring in Darfur."

Powell went on to say: "So let us not be too preoccupied with this designation. These people are in desperate need and we must help them. Call it civil war, call it ethnic cleansing, call it genocide, call it 'none of the above.' The reality is the same. There are people in Darfur who desperately need the help of the international community."

But Powell did not offer intervention by the United States, which may not be possible with much of the U.S. army tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying "no new action is dictated by this determination. We have been doing everything we can to get the Sudanese government to act responsibly."

He then said it was up to the African Union to intervene in Darfur and provide enough troops to monitor the situation.

Go to the Top

RELATED

Doc Zone

Darfur: On Our Watch

Filmmaker interview

Neil Docherty

Interactive

The world's genocides

In depth

Sudan's Lost Boys
War crimes
Living with refugees

Reports from Abroad

Letters from Africa
David McGuffin

Photo Galleries

Darfur
Inside the camps (2004)
Darfur
The plight of refugees (2006)

Viewpoint/Analysis

At sea in Darfur
Mark Watson
Sudan: rape, murder - & oil
Martin O'Malley

Media

Sudan profile from The Hour
Real Video runs 2:00

External Links

Government of Sudan
Sudanese Media Centre
UNHCR
UNICEF: Darfur
African Studies Center: Sudan
Theodora.com: About Sudan
Sudan.net
Genocide Convention (Human Rights Watch)
Genocide Convention (United Nations)
Colin Powell's statement on genocide in Darfur
Documenting Atrocities in Darfur (U.S. State Dept. investigation)

(Note: CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites - links will open in new window)

Quick Facts

Population: 39,148,162

Capital: Khartoum

President: Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir

Ethnic groups: 52 per cent black, 39 per cent Arab, six per cent Beja (nomadic tribesmen), four per cent foreigners and others

Major religions: Sunni Muslim in the north, indigenous beliefs, mostly Christian in the south and Khartoum

Location: bordered by the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya and Uganda

Area total: 2,505,810 sq. km (the largest country on the continent)

Life Expectancy:58.13 years

Resources: petroleum, copper, zinc, tungsten, silver, gold, cotton, peanuts, millet, wheat, sugar cane, cassava, mangos, bananas, papaya, sweet potatoes, sesame, sheep

Industries: textiles, cement, sugar, shoes, pharmaceuticals, light truck assembly

Trading partners: China, Japan, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, India, UK, Germany, Indonesia, Australia

[an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive]
Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

World »

Cincinnati, Ohio nightclub shooting leaves 1 dead, 14 wounded
Gunfire erupted inside a crowded nightclub in Cincinnati early Sunday, killing one person and wounding more than a dozen others.
Carrie Lam, Beijing's pick, chosen as Hong Kong's leader
The first woman elected to lead Hong Kong has vowed to heal divisions, but the choice of Carrie Lam as chief executive is unlikely to appease pro-democracy supporters in the semi-autonomous territory.
Updated Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny arrested during protest
Police arrested dozens of protesters across Russia on Sunday, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, after thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against corruption and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
more »

Canada »

Canada may yet have peacekeeping boots on the ground in 2017 video
The Liberal government has yet to formally serve notice to the United Nations that it's ready to join international peacekeeping operations. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted Canada might still have boots on the ground in 2017, which would head off a major embarrassment.
National contest tries to convince students that lucrative sales jobs are 'sexy' video
The Great Canadian Sales Competition was designed to encourage more young people to pursue a career in sales. There are plenty of junior positions available, but companies can't find enough candidates, despite a youth unemployment rate of 12.4 per cent.
'It got me out of the house,' Alberta woman sees 500 shows in 6 years after husband's death
An Alberta woman had a hard time keeping it together after her husband passed away a few years ago.
more »

Politics »

NDP leadership debate to focus on young Canadians and how to win them back
NDP leadership candidates will tackle issues relevant to the country's youth in the campaign's second official debate Sunday, but their biggest challenge might be winning young voters back from the Liberals.
Canada may yet have peacekeeping boots on the ground in 2017 video
The Liberal government has yet to formally serve notice to the United Nations that it's ready to join international peacekeeping operations. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted Canada might still have boots on the ground in 2017, which would head off a major embarrassment.
Liberals must sell budget to premiers after 'challenging' health talks audio
Liberal MPs stuck around Ottawa on a rare Saturday to hammer out a plan to sell their recent budget to constituents in the coming weeks, but the government also will have to move past the bruising health accord negotiations to get the provinces on board.
more »

Health »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Arts & Entertainment»

Fans, friends remember Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds at public memorial
Fans and friends paid tribute to Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds at an uplifting, jovial memorial for the late actresses who died in December.
Harrison Ford says he was 'distracted' when he flew over airliner video
Actor Harrison Ford said he was distracted and concerned about turbulence from another aircraft last month when he mistakenly landed on the wrong place at a Southern California airport after flying low over an airliner with 116 people aboard, according to an audio recording released Friday.
Mindy Kaling's Newark joke leads to dinner with U.S. politician Cory Booker
A joke about Newark, New Jersey, on The Mindy Project led to dinner plans between U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and star Mindy Kaling.
more »

Technology & Science »

How lasers, environmentalists and Google combine to reduce methane emissions
A new project has brought together university researchers, an environmental organization and Google to help find and track methane leaks in U.S. cities.
Black hole gets unusual 'kick' out of galaxy core thanks to gravitational waves video
A team of international researchers got a bit of a shock recently: A supermassive black hole — something that normally anchors the centre of a galaxy — was spotted speeding away from its home. The reason? Gravitational waves, says the research team.
The politics of Pluto: 10 years later, the bitter debate rages on
More than 10 years after Pluto was demoted from planet to dwarf planet, the debate continues, with leading scientists on both sides becoming more vociferous and maybe a little testy.
more »

Money »

Convenience or comparison? Why sticking with 1 bank might not be the best option
Consumers love the convenience of one-stop shopping for their financial needs — but it could be costing them.
More TV streaming services join U.S. market, leaving Canada far behind
YouTube TV will soon join a long list of low-cost streaming options available in the U.S. but not in Canada. This frustrates many Canadians who want to watch their favourite shows without paying big cable bills.
Shoppers computer crash and budget zingers: CBC's Marketplace consumer cheat sheet
If you've been too busy to follow the consumer news this week, here's our cheat sheet.
more »

Consumer Life »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Sports »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Canada's Homan wins gold at world women's curling championships
Canada's Rachel Homan won gold at the world women's curling championship thanks to an 8-3 victory in the final over Russia on Sunday in Beijing.
Live IAAF World Cross Country Championships video
Watch live coverage of the IAAF world cross country championships in Kampala, Uganda.
Analysis If the NHL playoffs started today...
With the NHL's regular season winding down, the jockeying for Stanley Cup playoff positions becomes more intense. Here's how the matchups would look if the post-season began today.
more »

Diversions »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
more »