The term Genocide was coined by Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in 1944, whose family was one of the victims of the Jewish Holocaust. By defining this term, Lemkin sought to describe Nazi politics of systematic murder, violence as well atrocities committed against the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Combing ‘geno,’ from the Greek word for race or tribe, with ‘cide,’ from the Latin word for killing, he created the word ‘Genocide’. The following year, the International Military Tribunal at Nurenberg charged top Nazi officials with crimes against humanity. Although, the word Genocide was included in the indictment, it was as a descriptive and not as a legal term.
On December 9, 1948, in the shadow of the Holocaust, the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. See whole text
The Convention defines Genocide as an international crime, which signatory nations undertake to prevent and punish. According to the Convention, Genocide is one 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.
After the adoption of the convention some scholars have suggested other more inclusive definitions.
In 1959 Pieter Drost, a legal scholar defined Genocide as “The deliberate destruction of physical life of individual human beings by reason of their membership of any human collectivity as such”.
Israel Charny, the Editor of the Encyclopedia of Genocide in two volumes, suggests that “Genocide in the generic sense is the mass killing of substantial numbers of human beings, when not in the course of military action against the military forces of an avowed enemy, under conditions of the essential defenselessness and helplessness of the victims”.
The UN convention does not include the killing of the members of political groups in the definition of Genocide, but many genocide scholars argued for the inclusion of that point in the definition. The prominent Genocide scholar and sociologist Leo Cuper noted that in the contemporary world, political differences are at least as significant a basis for massacre and annihilation as racial, national, ethnic or religious differences. In response to the omission of political groups from the Convention definition of Genocide, Ted Gurr and Barbara Harff have coined the new term Politicide.