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The Genocide Convention

Genocide, the deliberate and systematic destruction of a group of people because of their ethnicitynationality, religion, or race. The term, derived from the Greek genos (“race,” “tribe,” or “nation”) and the Latin cide (“killing”), was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-born jurist who served as an adviser to the U.S. Department of War during World War II.

Although the term itself is of recent origin, genocide arguably has been practiced throughout history (though some observers have restricted its occurrence to a very few cases). According to Thucydides, for example, the people of Melos were slaughtered after refusing to surrender to the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War. Indeed, in ancient times it was common for victors in war to massacre all the men of a conquered population. The massacre of Cathari during the Albigensian Crusade in the 13th century is sometimes cited as the first modern case of genocide, though medieval scholars generally have resisted this characterization. Twentieth-century events often cited as genocide include the 1915 Armenian massacre by the Turkish-led Ottoman Empire, the nearly complete extermination of European Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and other groups by Nazi Germany during World War II, and the killing of Tutsi by Hutu in Rwanda in the 1990s.