Delegate Name: Aanya Muzumdar
Definition of Genocide
Aanya Muzumdar, Forest Hills Northern High School
Millions of Ukrainians have suffered, displaced, or lost lives due to atrocious crimes like the man-made famine Holomodor by the Soviet Union, Babyn Yar killings by Nazis during the Holocaust, the invasion and annexation of Crimea and Donbas region by Russia in 2014, and the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Raphael Lemkin coined the term ‘Genocide’ to segregate these violent crimes that were committed against a particular group with the intent of destroying their sole existence. United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defined and enacted a formal definition of Genocide with the purpose of preventing and punishing such crimes. Though this definition covers some aspects – lethal and non-lethal crime, small or large scale, partial or whole group, it is very narrow. It excludes atrocities perpetuated on cultural or political groups, requires proof of the perpetrator’s deliberate intent which is mostly difficult to prove, and does not clarify what not to classify as a genocide. The definition is so contentious that though 43 massive crimes killing more than 50 million people have occurred since WWII, only two crimes have been proven as genocide in the international court of law – killings of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda in 1994 and the events in Srebrenica (Bosnia & Herzegovina) in 1995. The systematic killing of non-Arab people by the Sudanese government in the Darfur region, systematic persecution and killing of Cambodian citizens by the Khmer Rouge, and many many others have gone unpunished. Many scholars, academicians, and human rights activists have attempted to redefine it, but none have been widely accepted.
On Feb 24th, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine under the pretext of a “special military operation” geared to punish and denazify Ukraine. It falsely accused Ukraine of committing genocide in Luhansk and Donetsk oblast and used that to justify this illegal invasion. On Feb 26th, 2022, Ukraine filed a dispute request against Russia, asking the International Criminal Court to intervene and to order Russia to halt all military action immediately. Per Ukraine, Russia’s discourse about the war allegedly violates the specific tenet of the Genocide Convention: making false allegations of genocide. Furthermore, there is growing evidence and international support that Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine and not the other way around. It is committing systematic violence against not only male civilians but also against women, children, and the elderly and forcing people into “filtration” camps. It is kidnapping and forcibly transferring children to Russia, having them reeducated or adopted by Russians. Russia has worked to erase the local culture, history, and language of Ukraine by targeting attacks on museums, churches, and libraries and by seizing literature and history books. All of this conforms to the UN definition of genocide, yet it has been difficult to hold Russia accountable and stop this massacre.
Ukraine supports the UN’s definition of genocide and as listed in article 442 of its criminal code, punishes the perpetrator. Ukraine believes there is room to improve this definition because it is narrow, requiring a high burden of proof to establish the perpetrator’s intent before the crime can be classified as genocide. It advocates for a broader and more inclusive definition like a one-sided crime committed by a state or authority to destroy, in whole or in part, a specific victim group, where the group is defined by the perpetrator and its discriminating differences towards that group. Ukraine looks forward to working with other states in redefining the definition of genocide, one that helps preemptive and speedy identification of this brutal crime and helps prevent atrocities. Such efforts will greatly benefit humanity.
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