Genocide Convention

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), or Genocide Convention, is an international treaty that criminalizes genocide and obligates state parties to enforce its prohibition. It was the first legal instrument to codify genocide as a crime, and the first human rights treaty unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, on 9 December 1948.[1] The Convention entered into force on 12 January 1951 and has 152 state parties.[2][3][Note 1] (Link dead. See: [4])

Genocide Convention
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
Signed9 December 1948
Effective12 January 1951
Parties152 (complete list)
DepositarySecretary-General of the United Nations

The Genocide Convention was conceived largely in response to World War II, which saw atrocities such as the Holocaust that lacked an adequate description or legal definition. Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who had coined the term genocide in 1944 to describe Nazi policies in occupied Europe, and the Armenian Genocide campaigned for its recognition as a crime under international law.[5] This culminated in 1946 in a landmark resolution by the General Assembly that recognized genocide as an international crime and called for the creation of a binding treaty to prevent and punish its perpetration.[6] Subsequent discussions and negotiations among UN member states resulted in the CPPCG.

The Convention defines genocide as an 'intentional effort to completely or partially destroy a group based on its nationality, ethnicity, race, or religion. It recognizes several acts as constituting genocide, such as imposing birth control and forcibly transferring children, and further criminalizes complicity, attempt, or incitement of its commission'. Member states are prohibited from engaging in genocide and obligated to enforce this prohibition even if violative of national sovereignty. All perpetrators are to be tried regardless of whether they are private individuals, public officials, or political leaders with sovereign immunity.

The CPPCG has influenced law at both the national and international level. Its definition of genocide has been adopted by international and hybrid tribunals, such as the International Criminal Court, and incorporated into the domestic law of several countries.[7] Its provisions are widely considered to be reflective of customary law and therefore binding on all nations whether or not they are parties. The International Court of Justice has likewise ruled that the principles underlying the Convention represent a peremptory norm against genocide that no government can derogate.[8]

Definition of genocideEdit

Article 2 of the Convention defines genocide as

... any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, 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.
— Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2[9]

Article 3 defines the crimes that can be punished under the convention:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.
— Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 3[9]

The convention was passed to outlaw actions similar to the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust.[10]

The first draft of the Convention included political killings, but the USSR[11] along with some other nations would not accept that actions against groups identified as holding similar political opinions or social status would constitute genocide,[12] so these stipulations were subsequently removed in a political and diplomatic compromise.

For an unofficial definition of intentional mass killing that does include political groups, historians such as Rudolph Rummel devised a new word, Democide that is more all inclusive (yet does not match the original purpose of the Convention, which was to criminalize the destruction of a people or group a s s u c h). Democide simply refers to "...any murder of any number of persons by any government."

Early drafts also included acts of cultural destruction in the concept of genocide, but these were opposed by former colonial powers. Such acts, which Lemkin saw as part and parcel of the concept of genocide, have since often been discussed as 'cultural genocide' (a term also not enshrined in international law). [13] In June, 2021, the International Criminal Court issued new guidelines for how cultural destruction, when occurring alongside other recognized acts of genocide, can potentially be corroborating evidence for the intent of the crime of genocide.[14]


Participation in the Genocide Convention
  Signed and ratified
  Acceded or succeeded
  Only signed

As of May 2021, there are 152 state parties to the Genocide Convention—representing the vast majority of sovereign nations—with the most recent being Mauritius, on 8 July 2019; one state, the Dominican Republic, has signed but not ratified the treaty. Forty-four states have neither signed nor ratified the Convention.

Despite its delegates playing a key role in drafting the Convention, the United States did not become a party until 1988—a full forty years after it was opened for signature—and did so only with reservations precluding punishment of the country if it were ever accused of genocide. U.S. ratification of the Convention was owed in large party to campaigning by Senator William Proxmire, who addressed the Senate in support of the treaty every day it was in session between 1967 and 1986.[15]


Immunity from prosecutionsEdit

While the Convention was designed to prevent the commission of genocide with impunity, several provisions were included to provide immunity from prosecution

Persons charged with genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III shall be tried by a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was committed, or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction with respect to those Contracting Parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction.

— Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 6[9]

Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III.

— Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 8[9]

Disputes between the Contracting Parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfilment of the present Convention, including those relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or for any of the other acts enumerated in article III, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of any of the parties to the dispute.

— Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 9[9]

Several parties conditioned their ratification of the Convention on reservations that grant immunity from prosecution for genocide without the consent of the national government:[16][17]

Parties making reservations from prosecution Note
  Malaysia Opposed by Netherlands, United Kingdom
  Singapore Opposed by Netherlands, United Kingdom
  United Arab Emirates
  United States of America Opposed by Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and United Kingdom
  Vietnam Opposed by United Kingdom
  Yemen Opposed by United Kingdom

Application to non-self-governing territoriesEdit

Any Contracting Party may at any time, by notification addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, extend the application of the present Convention to all or any of the territories for the conduct of whose foreign relations that Contracting Party is responsible

— Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 12[9]

Several countries opposed this article, considering that the convention should apply to Non-Self-Governing Territories:

  •   Albania
  •   Belarus
  •   Bulgaria
  •   Hungary
  •   Mongolia
  •   Myanmar
  •   Poland
  •   Romania
  •   Russian Federation
  •   Ukraine

The opposition of those countries were in turn opposed by:

  •   Australia
  •   Belgium
  •   Brazil
  •   Ecuador
  •   China
  •   Netherlands
  •   Sri Lanka
  •   United Kingdom



In 1988, following the campaign of chemical weapons attacks and mass killings of Kurdish people in Southern Kurdistan, legislation was proposed to the United States House of Representatives, in the, "Prevention of Genocide Act". The bill was defeated to allegations of "inappropriate terms" such as "genocide". Contemporary scholars and international organizations widely consider the Anfal Campaign to have been genocide following the Iran-Iraq war, killing tens of thousands of Kurds. Saddam Hussein was charged individually with genocide though executed prior to a return for the charge. Associates of Hussein such as "Chemical Ali", and others have been widely accused of genocide and the events widely cited as one of the atrocities most commonly associated with the Hussein regime.[18]


The first time that the 1948 law was enforced occurred on 2 September 1998 when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former mayor of a small town in Rwanda, guilty of nine counts of genocide. The lead prosecutor in this case was Pierre-Richard Prosper. Two days later, Jean Kambanda became the first head of government to be convicted of genocide.

Former YugoslaviaEdit

The first state and parties to be found in breach of the Genocide convention were Serbia and Montenegro, and numerous Bosnian Serb leaders. In Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro, the International Court of Justice presented its judgment on 26 February 2007. It cleared Serbia of direct involvement in genocide during the Bosnian war. International Tribunal findings, have addressed two allegations of genocidal events, including the 1992 Ethnic Cleansing Campaign in municipalities throughout Bosnia, as well as the convictions found in regards to the Srebrenica Massacre of 1995 in which the tribunal found, "Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide, they targeted for extinction, the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims of Srebrenica ... the trial chamber refers to the crimes by their appropriate name, genocide ...". Individual convictions applicable to the 1992 Ethnic Cleansings have not been secured however. A number of domestic courts and legislatures have found these events to have met the criteria of genocide, and the ICTY found the acts of, and intent to destroy to have been satisfied, the "Dolus Specialis" still in question and before the MICT, UN war crimes court,[19][20] but ruled that Belgrade did breach international law by failing to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, and for failing to try or transfer the persons accused of genocide to the ICTY, in order to comply with its obligations under Articles I and VI of the Genocide Convention, in particular in respect of General Ratko Mladić.[21][22]

Situations under investigationEdit

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court incorporates the same definition of genocide as the Genocide Convention (as well as listing the definitions of the Crimes against humanity). Under the Statute, the United Nations Security Council may request that the International Criminal Court conduct investigations of alleged breaches of the Convention.[23]

In 2005, the first investigation involving allegations of genocide were opened in Darfur, Sudan, leading to the issuance of arrest warrants in 2009 and 2010 against then-president Omar al-Bashir;[24] the case remains in the pre-trial stages.[25] Following al-Bashir's ouster in a military coup in April 2019, he has been detained by the new civilian government.

Other accusationsEdit


In June 2021, legislative representatives for the New Democratic Party pushed for the Canadian Parliament to recognize the systematic forced removal of children from their homes for the purposes of destroying indigenous cultures and promoting assimilation into colonial culture by the Canadian government while operating Aboriginal residential schools as an act of genocide. Unanimous consent to move the parliamentary motion forward was denied by a vote in the House of Commons.[26]


Starting in early 2017, refugees, journalists, scholars and others began to report widespread atrocities perpetrated by the Chinese government, against the Uyghur, Kazakhs, and other ethnic minorities in the region known as Xinjiang (East Turkestan), involving mass internment in camps, forced labor, forced sterilizations, mass family separations, and the destruction of indigenous cultural heritage, the prohibition of native languages, and so on.[27]

On 19 January 2021, less than 24 hours before the end of Trump's presidency, outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement which accused China of an ongoing genocide against its Uyghur population.[28] This view was then endorsed by incoming Secretary of State Antony Blinken.[29]

On 22 February 2021, the Canadian Parliament voted that China has committed genocide against its Uighur Muslim population, although PM Justin Trudeau and his Cabinet members abstained.[30] Earlier, on October 21, 2020, after two years of investigations, the Canadian House of Commons's Subcommittee on Human Rights issued a report which says it is "persuaded that the actions of the Chinese Communist Party constitute genocide as laid out in the Genocide Convention. [31]

On 22 February 2021, the Dutch Parliament also concluded China's actions is genocide. [32]

On 8 March 2021, the US-based thinktank Newlines Institute published a report which concluded that "the People’s Republic of China (China) bears State responsibility for committing genocide against the Uyghurs in breach of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention) based on an extensive review of the available evidence and application of international law to the evidence of the facts on the ground."[33]

On 22 April 2021, the British Parliament voted unanimously that China's conduct is genocide.[34]

On 9 December 2021, after extensive hearings with witnesses and experts, the independent non-governmental London-based Uyghur Tribunal also concluded China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity, against the Uyghurs and the other targeted minority peoples.[35] Officials with the UN Human Rights office in Geneva described the Uyghur Tribunal findings as 'deeply disturbing'.[36]

United StatesEdit

One of the first accusations of genocide submitted to the UN after the Convention entered into force concerned the treatment of Black Americans. The Civil Rights Congress drafted a 237-page petition arguing that even after 1945, the United States had been responsible for hundreds of wrongful deaths, both legal and extra-legal, as well as numerous other genocidal abuses. Leaders from the Black community, including William Patterson, Paul Robeson, and W. E. B. Du Bois presented this petition to the UN in December 1951.[37] However, this accusation was a domestic political act by the Civil Rights Congress, without any expectation that a formal charge would be levied against the US.[citation needed]


Myanmar has been accused of Genocide against its Rohingya community in Northern Rakhine State after around 800.000 Rohingya fled at gunpoint to neighbouring Bangladesh in 2016 and 2017, while their home villages were systematically burned. The International Court of Justice has given its first circular in 2018 asking Myanmar to protect its Rohingya from genocide.[38][39][40] Myanmar is not under the jurisdiction of the ICJ, yet its government agreed to defend itself in the Hague. But Myanmar's civilian government was overthrown by the military, in the Feb. 1, 2021 Myanmar coup d'état. Since the military is widely seen as the main culprit of the genocide, the coup presents a further challenge to the ICJ.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ As of May 2021.


  1. ^ "Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide" (PDF). United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  2. ^ "United Nations Treaty Collection". Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  3. ^ "Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide". United Nations Treaty Series. Archived from the original on 20 October 2012. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  4. ^ {{cite web|url= on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Retrieved 27 Dec. 2021.
  5. ^ Auron, Yair, The Banality of Denial, (Transaction Publishers, 2004), 9.
  6. ^ "A/RES/96(I) - E - A/RES/96(I) -Desktop". Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  7. ^ "United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect". Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  8. ^ "The Genocide Convention – Israel Legal Advocacy Project". 21 January 2020. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Text of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, website of the UNHCHR.
  10. ^ The Armenian Genocide and International Law, Alfred de Zayas – "And yet there are those who claim that the Armenians have no justiciable rights, because the Genocide Convention was only adopted 1948, more than thirty years after the Armenian genocide, and because treaties are not normally applied retroactively. This, of course, is a fallacy, because the Genocide Convention was drafted and adopted precisely in the light of the Armenian genocide and in the light of the Holocaust."
  11. ^ Robert Gellately & Ben Kiernan (2003). The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 267. ISBN 0-521-52750-3. where Stalin was presumably anxious to avoid his purges being subjected to genocidal scrutiny.
  12. ^ Staub, Ervin (1989). The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 8. ISBN 0-521-42214-0.
  13. ^ Edward C. Luck. "Cultural Genocide and the Protection of Cultural Heritage. J. Paul Getty Trust Occasional Papers in Cultural Heritage Policy Number 2, 2018" (PDF). J Paul Getty Trust.
  14. ^ International Criminal Court (ICC), Office of the Prosecutor. "Policy on Cultural Heritage" (PDF). ICC.
  15. ^ "U.S. Senate: William Proxmire and the Genocide Treaty". Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  16. ^ Prevent Genocide International: Declarations and Reservations to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
  17. ^ United Nations Treaty Collection: Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Archived 20 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine, STATUS AS AT: 1 October 2011 07:22:22 EDT
  18. ^ Dave Johns. "FRONTLINE/WORLD . Iraq - Saddam's Road to Hell - A journey into the killing fields . PBS".
  19. ^ Chambers, The Hague. "ICTY convicts Ratko Mladić for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity | International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia".
  20. ^ Hudson, Alexandra (26 February 2007). "Serbia cleared of genocide, failed to stop killing". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2 March 2007.
  21. ^ "ICJ:Summary of the Judgment of 26 February 2007 – Bosnia v. Serbia". Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2008.
  22. ^ Court Declares Bosnia Killings Were Genocide The New York Times, 26 February 2007. A copy of the ICJ judgement can be found here Archived 28 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ "Listing of genocide cases pending at the ICC". International Criminal Court (ICC). Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  24. ^ "Omar Bashir: ICC delegation begins talks in Sudan over former leader". BBC News. 17 October 2020.
  25. ^ "Al Bashir Case, The Prosecutor v. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, ICC-02/05-01/09". International Criminal Court (ICC). Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  26. ^ "NDP push to declare residential schools a genocide defeated in House". CBC News. 10 June 2021. Retrieved 18 June 2021.
  27. ^ "China's 're-education' / concentration camps in Xinjiang / East Turkistan and the campaign of forced assimilation and genocide targeting Uyghurs, Kazakhs, etc. - Bibliography of Select News Reports & Academic Works [periodically updated]". 2 December 2021. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  28. ^ Borger, Julian (19 January 2021). "Mike Pompeo declares China's treatment of Uighurs 'genocide'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  29. ^ "Incoming Secretary of State Backs Pompeo's Uyghur Genocide Designation". National Review. 20 January 2021. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  30. ^ "Canada's Trudeau, Cabinet abstain from China genocide vote". AP NEWS. 22 February 2021. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  32. ^ "Dutch parliament: China's treatment of Uighurs is genocide". Reuters. 25 February 2021. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  33. ^ "The Uyghur Genocide: An Examination of China's Breaches of the 1948 Genocide Convention". Newlines Institute. 9 March 2021. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  34. ^ "UK Parliament Unanimously Designates Abuses in Xinjiang as Genocide in Historic Vote". RFA. 22 April 2021. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  35. ^ {{Cite web|url=
  36. ^ "Uyghur genocide report 'deeply disturbing', says UN". AFP / Channel News Asia. 10 December 2021. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  37. ^ John Docker, "Raphaël Lemkin, creator of the concept of genocide: a world history perspective", Humanities Research 16(2), 2010.
  38. ^ "Top UN court orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya from genocide". UN News. 23 January 2020. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  39. ^ "Interview: Landmark World Court Order Protects Rohingya from Genocide". Human Rights Watch. 27 January 2020. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  40. ^ Paul, Stephanie van den Berg, Ruma (23 January 2020). "World Court orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya from acts of genocide". Reuters. Retrieved 20 January 2021.

Further readingEdit