Understanding UN Convention On Prevention And Punishment Of Crime Of Genocide – OpEd


By Julia Schemmer

Although many people believe genocide to be an atrocity of the past, many countries are still burdened by the remnants of a genocidal attempt. When hatred is left unchecked, any country developed or not, can fall into the horrible pattern of genocide. Elie Wiesel, an outspoken survivor of the Holocaust, once said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

In 1948, conversations finally opened about the realities of a genocidal attempt, and what consequences each country would face if they committed genocide. As people recovered from the trauma of the Holocaust and prepared themselves for what was to come, the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment on the Crime of Genocide was created. Read more about what it means, why it was created, and how it affects you today!

Why the law was formed Before we can understand the importance of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, it is important to understand what international laws surrounding genocide existed prior.

Interesting enough, the word genocide was not used until late 1944 by author Raphael Lemkin in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Many people were unsure how to define genocide, let alone determine the international policies that should be in place for mediating a genocidal attempt.

On December 17th, 1942, representatives from the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union gathered to issue a joint declaration as an attempt to hold people responsible for the mass murders of European Jewry. As a result, the Allies formed the International Military Tribunal, and trials occurred in Nuremberg, Germany. While the trials resulted in twelve defendants being sentenced to death, it’s clear that the Holocaust did not occur with only twelve people supporting it; so many people were left innocent or never were tried for their crimes against humanity.

As a result, frustration augmented in the voices of the representatives from the Allied nations. They were upset at the indirect definition of genocide, and the length it took to initiate a trial for violators of peace. In 1946, Cuba, Panama and India drafted a resolution with two objectives: declaring that genocide is a crime committed in times of peacetime and war, and recognition that genocide was subject to universal jurisdiction. This was a vital move forward for the development of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, paving the way for the international recognition of genocide. However, since the document used vague terms about whether or not it was a peacetime crime, the Convention was reached to create a solid foundation about genocide.

How it was formed Like any international law formation, it had to undergo a series of steps and procedures to get it into action today. Raphael Lemkin, Vespasian Pella and Henri Donnedieu de Vabres worked together to form a draft resolution, which created an outline of concepts rather than a solidification of probable solutions. After the first draft was initially written, it was passed to the Ad Hoc Committee under the authority of the Economic and Social Committee. Once it passed this stage, it became negotiated in the Sixth Committee of the General Assembly, and was adopted by the General Assembly.

However, the adoption process was tedious and required diplomatic action to ensure ratification. Article II originally encompassed genocide in three aspects: physical, biological and cultural, however countries disagreed about the cultural aspect of genocide, and this was taken out. Over one hundred and forty countries have ratified this law.

Consequences of the law As a result of the law being enforced, it has dramatically revolutionized international policy. One of the biggest points of dispute is what the difference is between an ethnic cleansing and genocide, as the difference is still unclear, especially when hidden by euphemisms. As countries continue to deny the existence of prior genocides, it is important to look at the law with a careful eye and understand its inevitable implications.

Although genocide is a global topic, with conversations like these, we as a society can begin to understand the importance of stopping genocide in its tracks. Never again begins with you and me, and with the historic UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, we can change the world!


The A38 Foundation was an initiative to further international dialogue and scholarship in Public International Law. It was named so after Article 38, under the Statute of the International Court of Justice, which talks about the sources of Law. A38 ran ad hoc consultancies and research programs, while also maintaining an open access Quarterly Online Journal.

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