The term genocide—which is defined as the crime of destroying or conspiring to destroy a group of people because of their ethnic, national, racial, or religious identity—was introduced by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish legal scholar. He created the word in 1944 to describe the systematic annihilation of entire groups of people by Nazi Germany during World War II (1939–45). Yet genocide did not originate with the Nazis: it has been a common practice since ancient times, and it has occurred in all parts of the world. In fact, scholars estimate that during the last half of the twentieth century genocide was committed or attempted by at least sixteen nations in Africa, Central and South America, Asia, and Europe.
In 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN; an international peace-keeping organization) authorized the establishment of the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (commonly called the Genocide Convention). Taking effect in 1951, the Genocide Convention made genocide a crime under international law. The first attempt to prosecute people under the convention took place in 1993, when the UN formed an international tribunal to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide, in the former Yugoslavia. In late 1994 the UN established another tribunal to investigate war crimes in Rwanda; three men, including former Rwandan prime minister Jean Kambanda, were convicted of genocide in 1998. Enforcement of the Genocide Convention was difficult, however, so in 1998 the UN voted to create a permanent International Criminal Court based in The Hague, Netherlands.
Further Information: Frontline: The Crime of Genocide. [Online] Available http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/rwanda/reports/dsetexhe.html, October 25, 2000; The Genocide Research Project. Genocide: Resources for Teaching and Research. [Online] Available http://www.people.memphis.edu/~genocide/, October 25, 2000; United States Institute of Peace. Rwanda: Accountability for War Crimes and Genocide. [Online] Available http://www.usip.org/oc/sr/rwanda1.html, October 25, 2000.