With the memory of World War II firmly rooted in their minds, and only a few hours before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sixty years ago, on 9 December 1948, delegates in
Paris focused their attention on another difficult subject that still haunts the world stage today -- genocide.
Tuesday marks the 60th anniversary of the General Assembly’s adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide [A/RES/260 A (III)], which came into force on 12 January 1951.
(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.
Sixty years later, there are now 140 States parties to the Convention. Because it is a part of international customary law the Convention is considered applicable in all countries, irrespective of whether they have signed or ratified it.
The General Assembly had already affirmed that genocide was a crime under international law in a resolution adopted two years earlier [A/RES/96 (I)].
In a message issued to mark the anniversary (full text), the Secretary-General said, “the world has continued to witness appalling acts that violate human dignity. Too often, the international response has been inadequate. Far from being consigned to history, genocide and its ilk remain a serious threat. Not just vigilance but a willingness to act are as important today as ever.”
He went on to call on all Member States to accede to and/or implement the Convention, saying, “Preventing genocide is a collective and individual responsibility. We must do everything in our power to ensure that our children may live free from the fear of being killed because they belong to an ethnic, national, religious or racial group.”
“As in any justice system, we have to deal with the question of impunity. You cannot, for instance, prosecute an individual for stealing a loaf of bread and yet not prosecute individuals at the top who are responsible for the deaths and rapes of thousands of people – and that is the importance of criminal prosecution,” she explained.
According to the OHCHR web site, the first genocide conviction occurred at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 1998, set up to try suspects of the 1994
Rwanda genocide that left more than 800,000 people dead. Another ad hoc court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, was also established to prosecute and try those responsible genocide and other serious crimes.
Other tribunals set up in Cambodia and Sierra Leone with the support of the United Nations also address the crime of genocide. A permanent International Criminal Court (ICC), established by the 1998 Rome Statute, has jurisdiction to prosecute genocide. So far 108 countries have accepted the court's jurisdiction.
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Convention, OHCHR is organizing a seminar next January on the prevention of genocide.
In related news, the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide is pleased to announce the launch of its web site.
The Office adopts a broad-based approach to the prevention of genocide that involves cooperation with UN departments and agencies, human rights bodies and mechanisms, regional and sub-regional organizations, governmental and nongovernmental organizations, academic and research institutions, members of civil society, and independent scholars and experts on genocide prevention.
The Office intends to use the web site to raise awareness and share information about genocide prevention. The address of the newly-launched web site is http://www.un.org/genocide/prevention/ .
Within the specific framework of the genocide prevention mandate, the Special Adviser seeks and receives information relevant to the protection of genocide from all UN bodies, in particular early-warning information, and acts as a catalyst within the UN system, making recommendations for effective prevention responses by the Secretary-General, the Security Council, and other UN partners in a comprehensive system-wide process, and supporting these partners in undertaking preventive action in accordance with their mandates and responsibilities.
The new web site includes additional background information on why genocide happens and the role of the UN in preventing genocide.
Additional historical information is available online in the Yearbook of the United Nations .