What is genocide?

The term 'genocide' was first used in 1944 by the lawyer Raphael Lemkin to describe Nazi Germany's policies towards Jewish and other populations during the Second World War. Lemkin derived the name from the ancient Greek word genos (race, kin) and the Latin word cide (killing).

It was not until 1948 that the new United Nations developed a legal definition for genocide in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which is still binding today. In the Convention, genocide is defined as any act commited with intent to destroy, whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group including:

  • 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.

Since this definition has been established, atrocity crimes in several countries have been classified as genocides: