The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (article 2) defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group … ”, including: (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.
The Convention confirms that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or war, is a crime under international law which parties to the Convention undertake “to prevent and to punish” (article 1). The primary responsibility to prevent and stop genocide lies with the State in which this crime takes place.
Genocide often occurs in societies in which different national, racial, ethnic or religious groups become locked in identity-related conflicts. However, it is not the differences in identity per se that generate conflict, but rather the gross inequalities associated with those differences in terms of access to power and resources, social services, development opportunities and the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms. It is often the targeted group’s reactions to these inequalities, and counter-reactions by the dominant group, that generate conflict that can escalate to genocide.
Given that no country is perfectly homogeneous, genocide is a truly global challenge. Genocide may occur in times of peace, where groups are intentionally subject to long-term policies and practices affecting their ability to exist as an identity group, as well as in the context of both intra-State and inter-State conflicts.
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