In 1933, the lawyer Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew, urged the League of Nations to recognize mass atrocities against a particular group as an international crime. He cited mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I and other events in history. He was ignored. A few years later, the Nazi regime murdered more than six million Jews, including Lemkin’s own family. In 1943, Lemkin created a new word to describe such mass killing. He combined the Greek and Latin words, ‘geno’ (race or tribe) and ‘cide’ (killing). He proposed the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, approved in 1948.
Genocide does not only involve direct violence. It can involve creating conditions – such as starvation – that will kill people. It is usually committed by a government or a group of individuals with political and military power. The 1948 Convention has universal character because it confirms principles that are so fundamental that no nation may ignore them.