Rome (Fides Service) - The first definition of “genocide” came from Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, docent in International Law at Yale University. In 1944 in the middle of World War II he wrote: “This new term, coined by the writer to describe an old crime within a new context, comes from the Greek genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (to caedere, to kill)”.
Genocide became a juridical term in the “Convention for the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide” adopted by the United Nations 1948, following the Nuremberg (trial 1945-46), and it has been applied since 1951.
Genocide is said to be a crime typical of war but it can also happen in times of peace: “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious 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”. (UN Convention for the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide 1948)
But the Convention was not the last word with regard to different understandings of the term “genocide”. The debate centres on some essential aspects: category of groups of victims (undoubtedly the most widely debated); the meaning of “intention to destroy”; whether only governments can be responsible for genocide; whether the term genocide can be applied to systematic action over a long period or also to sporadic actions. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 6/4/2004 lines 26 words 298)