Genocide (Forensic Science)
Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) coined the word “genocide” to describe the German policy toward the Jews during World War II. His campaign for recognition of this crime resulted in the 1948 adoption by the United Nations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defined genocide as acts intended to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group by killing or doing serious physical or mental harm to members of the group, by preventing births within the group, and by separating children of the group from other group members.
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Conflicting Definitions (Forensic Science)
The importance of the international recognition of the crime of genocide was that the pre-World War II laws of war (the laws under which war crimes could be charged) covered only the actions that governments took against citizens of other countries. For this reason, after World War II, the charges of war crimes brought against several high-ranking German officials at the Nuremberg Trials included charges for their mass execution of Jews from Poland, France, and other nations, but not for the Nazi slaughter of German Jews. By establishing genocide as a crime against humanity, the United Nations made it possible to punish government officials after that time for comparable crimes against their own citizens.
Some legal scholars and other observers have asserted that the definition of genocide should be broadened to include acts intended to destroy political opponents or unpopular minorities (such as homosexuals) as well as the usual national, ethnic, racial, or religious targets of genocide. Some have even coined words—such as “politicide” and “democide”—to cover additional groups they feel should be protected under international law.
Given that legal scholars differ somewhat in their interpretations of the precise definition of genocide, those accused of genocidal acts sometimes attempt to defend themselves against the charge by playing varying interpretations against one another. forensic science has...
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Applications of Forensic Science (Forensic Science)
At the Nuremberg Trials, the testimony of victims and eyewitnesses as well as substantial documentary evidence were presented to sustain the charges against the Germans. forensic science was able to answer one important question that was raised at the trials: Although the Germans were guilty of many atrocities, they did not perpetrate the 1940 massacre of Polish military officers that was carried out in Russia’s Katyn Forest. Forensic evidence proved that the massacre was carried out by the Soviets, who subsequently tried to blame it on the Germans.
Advances in forensic science techniques led to the increasing use of such techniques in determining the truth of numerous situations in which genocide had been alleged. Between 1976 and 1983, the military junta that ruled Argentina carried out “democide” against trade unionists and left-wing students who opposed the regime. The junta was accused of secretly kidnapping opponents, torturing and killing them, and burying the victims in unmarked graves. The junta acknowledged burying some bodies in unmarked graves but insisted that the graves contained only the bodies of elderly male indigents who had died of natural causes. After the regime fell, an international outcry led to exhumations and forensic investigations of the alleged burial sites. It was determined that although a few of those in the graves were elderly males who apparently died of natural causes,...
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Further Reading (Forensic Science)
Benedict, Jeff. No Bone Unturned: Inside the World of a Top Forensic Scientist and His Work on America’s Most Notorious Crimes and Disasters. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Details the diversity of the forensic science done by Douglas Owsley, who contributed to the work of identifying the victims of the Bosnian-Croatian genocide.
James, Stuart H., and Jon J. Nordby, eds. Forensic Science: An Introduction to Scientific and Investigative Techniques. 2d ed. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2005. Comprehensive text provides an excellent summary of mitochondrial DNA analysis for general readers.
Scheffler, Immo E. Mitochondria. 2d ed. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. Offers an extensive technical discussion of mitochondrial DNA analysis, which has been used to identify the remains of many genocide victims.
Totten, Samuel, William S. Parsons, and Israel W. Charny. Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2004. Interesting collection of essays explores the issue of genocide.
Valentino, Benjamin A. Final Solutions: Mass Killing and Genocide in the Twentieth Century. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2004. Reviews a large number of cases of genocide in the twentieth century.
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Genocide (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
The crime of destroying or conspiring to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.
Genocide can be committed in a number of ways, including killing members of a group or causing them serious mental or bodily harm, deliberately inflicting conditions that will bring about a group's physical destruction, imposing measures on a group to prevent births, and forcefully transferring children from one group to another.
Genocide is a modern term. Coined in 1944 by Polish scholar of INTERNATIONAL LAW Raphael Lemkin, the word is a combination of the Greek genos (race) with the Latin cide (killing). In his book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, Lemkin offered the definition of "a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves" (Lemkin 1944, 79). The book studied in particular detail the methodology of the Nazi German genocide against European Jews, among whom were his parents. Later, he served as an advisor to both the U.S. War Department and the NUREMBERG TRIALS of Nazi leaders for WAR CRIMES. He dedicated his life to the development of...
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Genocide (Encyclopedia of Public Health)
Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction of a group of people defined by their nationality, or by their ethnic, cultural, or religious background. While public health has long been concerned with the promotion, provision, and protection of a population's health during war and conflict, genocide became of interest to the field of public health only in the late twentieth century. The public health impact of genocide is enormous; in the last half of the twentieth century alone, dozens of genocidesccounting for over 23 million deathsccurred, including in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Burundi, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. Recognizing the relationship between public health and genocide is important because of the contributions public health professionals can make to preventing and mitigating genocide and its impact.
Genocide may include a direct assault on public health as it did in Bosnia-Herzegovina. There, public health came face to face with genocide when acts were committed to destroy the public health of the population, thereby threatening to destroy people through inflicting serious harm to their health. Food, fuel, electricity, running water, and medical supplies were cut off from Sarajevo and its environs during the siege of that city. Since many things are essential to public health, including housing, nutrition, sanitation, and access to public health, any acts committed to destroy or seriously undermine the conditions needed for health are potentially acts of genocide if they are committed against a specific population. For instance, during the siege of Sarajevo, waterborne diseases such as hepatitis A increased because the sanitation systems no longer worked properly, 10 percent of the city's population was moderately malnourished, and the combined effects of malnutrition, cold, and lack of adequate medical care led to increased illness and deaths. In the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, genocide disproportionately affected the most vulnerable Bosnianshe very young, the elderly, women, the chronically ill, and the disabled.
Genocide may also include indirect assaults on public health, as it did in Rwanda in 1994. There, massive displacement of persons from their homes created large-scale health risks to the internally displaced and refugees. While the high morbidity and mortality in the Rwandan refugee population was recognized as a public health crisis, it was also the product of genocide. Refugees from the genocide who were living in camps did not contract cholera solely because of the infectious agent, but also because they were forced to flee their homes and encounter grossly unsanitary conditions due to their status as members of an ethnic group (the Tutsi) and resultant attacks by the Hutu government.
GENOCIDE AND OTHER FORMS OF MASS VIOLENCE
Genocide is a particular type of mass violence perpetrated against a large population. Other threats to the survival of a population, such as arbitrary imprisonment, discrimination, mass and systematic rape, torture, cutting off essential civilian supplies, and forced migration, can perpetrate large-scale harm against that population and have many of the same implications for public health as overt genocide. However, since 1946, when the United Nations General Assembly declared that genocide is "a crime under international law," genocide is recognized as distinct from other forms of mass violence. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, enacted in 1951, 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 as such: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily 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 their group; or (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
This distinction between genocide and other forms of mass violence is as significant to public health as it is to international law. First, when public health professionals name mass violence "genocide," they can invoke the Genocide Convention in their calls for action of intervention from the international community. Second, genocide is a punishable crime under the Genocide Convention. Since many health professionals believe that justice and legal accountability facilitate both the healing of victims and primary prevention of future genocides, determining that mass violence constitutes genocide invokes legal mechanisms for punishing the perpetrators under the Genocide Convention.
THE ROLE OF PUBLIC HEALTH
The precursors, processes, and consequences of genocide are increasingly being understood, and public health contributes to this understanding in a distinct manner from other disciplines, such as the law profession and the human rights field. Specifically, public health brings to the study of genocide the unique tools of epidemiology, which is the study of the distribution of disease and the factors associated with a disease within a population. Since public health views a specific population or group of human beings in an ecological model that includes the institutions (e.g., paramilitary organizations) and the objects (e.g., weapons of genocide) they have created, it is only natural that public health views genocide in this manner, too. Thus, public health professionals can examine genocide as a disease, along with social and behavioral factors that correlate with the disease, and may even cause it.
The work that public health professionals do to examine, prevent, and mitigate genocide can be understood in terms of the three traditional core functions of public health: assessment, policy development, and assurance of services. Assessments can be performed through data collection and analysis intended to identify, document, and notify the public about potential or ongoing genocide. Here the public health principles of disease and injury surveillance can be applied to violence against a population, and the traditional tools of public healthuch as case reports and surveillance studiesre well suited to this function. A genocide may have early warning signs that public health professionals can detect, such as escalating violence, increased refugee flows out of a country, and increasing systematic discrimination. In those cases where a war strategy targets the health of an entire group of people, public health professionals are best able to recognize the nature of the genocide.
Assessment is equally important after a genocide occurs. The methods, effects, and outcomes of all public health interventions must be assessed objectively. Epidemiologic studies to determine and quantify the public health impact of genocide can be performed, as has been done in numerous studies of international and civil wars. The public health impact of genocide goes beyond the number of people killed. It must also be understood for its long-term effect on public health, including the destruction of medical facilities; the killing and flight of physicians, nurses and other health care professionals; the psychological impact on the survivors; and the interruption of programs for immunizations, infectious disease prevention, and prenatal care. Public health can also inform other types of assessments, such as retrospective studies to determine and identify the conditions, risk factors, and precursors that led to genocide.
Policy development may include recommending courses of action to prevent or mitigate a genocide. Again, policy development is an established function of public health in response to situations that threaten the health and safety of an exposed population. For instance, public health programs such as vaccination campaigns are proposed when large numbers of people living in a defined geographic area are at risk for illness or death from a contagious disease that vaccination would protect against. Similarly, public health policy proposals can advocate to protect groups at risk of genocide. Whenever there is a threat or occurrence of genocide, public health officials can advocate strongly for immediate international action. The principles of public health, coupled with the protests of public health professionals, can influence governments regarding the need, timing, and level of intervention required to protect a group from genocide.
Assurance of services may include designing and implementing programs that address the efforts at genocide. In the event of genocide, health care professionals can provide emergency services and physical and psychological treatment and rehabilitation of survivors. Interventions for complex humanitarian emergencies must be implemented as quickly as possible and made available to refugees and internally displaced persons.
Public health can play an important role in determining the truth about events of mass violence. Much of the work regarding genocide in the fields of human rights, law, and history revolves around determining the truth of claims for and against an occurrence of genocide. Public health contributes to these efforts through the powerful tool of epidemiology. With its methods for systematic compilation, consolidation, and assessment of data, epidemiology can be used by war crime tribunals to argue that specific war violations occurred on a scale consistent with crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide. For instance, epidemiologic investigations are useful in determining whether the cluster of methods that make up a policy of "ethnic cleansing" are consistent either with a series of unorganized and isolated acts or with a systematic policy of genocidehich would be a punishable act under the Genocide Convention.
S. Swiss and J. Giller have demonstrated how public health methods are critical to defining the nature of a particular mass violence, such as the systematic use of rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They estimated that "based on the assumption that 1 percent of acts of unprotected intercourse result in pregnancy, the identification of 119 pregnancies, therefore, represents some 11,900 rapes." They stress that the goal is not to arrive at a final number of events but rather to determine its magnitude and extent, since evidence of a systematic pattern is critical to determining whether rape constituted part of a policy of genocide. This is because the Genocide Convention prohibits even intent or attempts to commit genocide. Though proof of thousands of rapes is useful evidence when prosecuting a case under the Genocide Convention, the Genocide Convention focuses on the perpetrator's intent to destroy a social group in whole or in part. The degree to which a genocidal plan is successfully carried out is not part of the law of the Genocide Convention. Thus, behind the inevitable complexities that surround questions of the responsibility of the different nationality or ethnic group involved in the violence, public health can analyze a genocide from a public health perspective and can contribute to the prevention of genocide and the healing of its survivors.
DAVID P. EISENMAN
(SEE ALSO: Famine; International Health; Politics of Public Health; Refugee Communities; Violence; War)
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Available at .
Geller, G. A. (1995). "Humanitarian Responses to Mass Violence Perpetrated against Vulnerable Populations." British Medical Journal 311:995001.
Human Rights Watch (1993). War Crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovna, Vol. 2: Helsinki Watch. New York: Author.
Levy, B. S., and Sidel, V. W., eds. (1997). War and Public Health. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mann, J. M.; Gruskin, M. A.; and Annas, G. J., eds. (1999). Health and Human Rights: A Reader. New York: Routledge.
Staub, E. (1984). The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Swiss, S., and Giller, J. (1993). "Rape as a Crime of War: A Medical Perspective." Journal of the American Medical Association 270:61213.
Genocide (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
Few concepts carry the weight and power of the term genocide. The word's profound significance is bound to its unique role as a moral and legal marker of the very worst type of human behavior. Morally, genocide refers to acts of horrific violence such as mass murder, state terror, and other strategies of brutal repression. The term names an ethical boundary beyond which a government forfeits its legitimacy and society descends into barbarism. Legally, genocide refers to the intentional destruction of a group as such, a crime so severe that it demands immediate and total condemnation. As the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the subject stated, "Genocide is the ultimate crime and the gravest violation of human rights it is possible to commit."
The term genocide has a highly specific origin, rooted in two related sources: the invention of the word in 1943 by Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin; and its definition, several years later, as an international crime through the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The concept of genocide was a direct response to the Holocaust and the extraordinary destruction and brutality of World War II.
Lemkin created the term genocide, out of the Greek word genos, referring to race or tribe, and the Latin term cide, meaning murder. He defined genocide as a coordinated strategy to destroy a group of people, a process that could be accomplished through total annihilation as well as strategies that eliminate key elements of the group's basic existence, including language, culture, and economic infrastructure. Lemkin believed the Nazis' systematic eradication of various peoples represented an irreparable harm to global society and a special challenge to existing conceptions of criminal law. He created the concept as a means of mobilizing the international community to take strong, coordinated action to prevent the recurrence of such vicious, destructive violence.
The text of the Genocide Convention was approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1948, and entered into force on January 12, 1951. The Convention defines genocide and obligates those states that accept the treaty to take serious actions to prevent its occurrence and punish those responsible. Article II of the Convention defines the crime as follows:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:
- 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.
The Genocide Convention was the first of a series of international treaties that, taken together, form the modern system of fundamental rights and freedoms. While the brutal acts that define genocide were not new, the Convention's formal evocation of the crime as a foundational concept within the human rights system represented an act of great historic significance. The Convention remains the premier document for defining genocide and, by 2003, 135 nations had accepted its legal obligations. The Convention's definition has been reinforced through its repetition in relevant domestic legislation and in the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The crime of genocide is widely accepted as a norm of jus cogens ("compelling" or "higher" law that transcends the limitations of individual national laws and which no country can violate with impunity). For this reason, genocide is prohibited even in those states that have not adopted the Convention, is not bound by statutes of limitations, and is subject to universal jurisdiction. In 1996 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued provisional measures in a case in which Bosnia and Herzegovina claimed that Yugoslavia was committing genocide. The ICJ also accepted jurisdiction over the merits of the case and stated clearly that the two countries were obligated to prevent and punish genocide, regardless of the nature of the conflict, the status of the new states, and key issues of territorial integrity.
The crime of genocide is composed of three essential elements: acts, intent, and victim group. There are five enumerated acts that are distinct in nature, yet unified as strategies. Three of these are aimed at destroying an existing group: killing, causing serious harm, and/or creating destructive conditions. The other two specified acts are aimed at ruining the possibility of the group's continued existence: preventing reproduction and the forcible removal of children. The issue of intent is complex, but is generally understood to limit claims of genocide to those cases where political violence is purposefully directed toward the destruction of a group. This political objective may be presented as official policy, or it may be expressed through the coordinated and systematic nature of state-sponsored terror. The issue of intent is one of the more contentious elements of the crime and is often discussed as a key limitation to successful prosecutions. The group victim requirement defines genocide as a unique crime that is directed not against individuals per se, but instead targets victims because of their membership in a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. The definition is often criticized for its exclusion of political and social groups, for these, too, are often the targets of severe political violence.
Each element of the legal definition of genocide raises an array of troubling questions, many of which run counter to general moral understandings of the term. For example, one might have a case of genocide involving few casualties (as with the forced transfer of children) or a situation of extraordinary brutality that does not meet the definition (as with the mass murder of political opponents or others who are not targeted for their membership in one of the four protected groups). To address these issues, scholars have interpreted the crime to cover most forms of state-sponsored mass killing. Helen Fein, for instance, has suggested a "sociological definition," whereas Israel W. Charny calls for a "humanistic definition," and Leo Kuper suggests a broader understanding of the crime be developed, in order to address problems arising from the technical nature of the Convention's language. Others have suggested the need to create new terms. For instance, R. J. Rummel has coined the word democide to refer to all forms of mass state murder, and others have offered auto-genocide to deal with mass murder where both the perpetrators and victims are members of the same group.
Despite the existence of a global promise to prevent and punish genocide, the second half of the twentieth century presented many cases of extreme violence that could be termed genocide alongside limited international action. It was not until 1998 that the world witnessed the first international prosecution and conviction for genocide, in the Akayesu case at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. This historic decision was followed by a number of additional cases in the same court and at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, allowing for the evolution of a new jurisprudence of genocide. These shifts have heightened an international commitment to understanding genocide as a crime of such severity that it can be prosecuted anywhere, regardless of ordinary jurisdictional limitations. Similarly, there is a growing concern for developing strategies and policy interventions that recognize the special status of victims of genocide and seek to address their social, economic, and political needs.
Genocide is iconic in its representation of the complex nature of modernity. The concept of genociderom its genesis in the aftermath of the Holocaust to the present dayinds acts of unforgivable brutality to a global promise that extreme political violence will no longer be tolerated within an emerging international order premised on the protection of fundamental human rights.
SEE ALSO Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide; Explanation; Holocaust; International Court of Justice; International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia; Lemkin, Raphael; Political Theory; Psychology of Perpetrators; Psychology of Survivors; Psychology of Victims; Sociology of Perpetrators; Sociology of Victims
Bassiouni, M. Cherif, ed. (1999). International Criminal Law. Ardsley, N.Y.: Transnational Publishers.
Chalk, Frank, and Kurt Jonassohn (1990). The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Charny, Israel W. (1999). Encyclopedia of Genocide. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio.
Fein, Helen (1993). Genocide: A Sociological Perspective. London: Sage Publications.
Kuper, Leo (1981). Genocide: Its Political Uses in the Twentieth Century. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Lemkin, Raphael (1944). Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Rummel, R. J. (1994). Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers.
Schabas, William A. (2000). Genocide in International Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Staub, Ervin (1989). The Roots of Evil: The Psychological and Cultural Origins of Genocide and Other Forms of Group Violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Whitaker, Ben (1985). "Revised and updated report on the question of the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide." Commission on Human Rights. United Nations. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/6 2 July 1985. Also available from http://www.preventgenocide.org/prevent/UNdocs/whitaker/.