Genocide

International crime perpetrated with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such. Those responsible for the perpetration of genocide can be both state and non-state actors.

The term genocide – from the Latin roots genos, race or tribe, and cide, murder – was first conceived by Polish professor Ralph Lemmkin to describe actions undertaken by officers of the Axis powers in occupied Eastern Europe during the Second World War. This concept was taken up in the accusations of the Nuremberg trials (Gutman and Rieff, 1999: 153-157).

The term was not included in the sentences of said processes; however, only a year later, in 1946, the UN General Assembly recognized it as an independent crime of international importance that should be prosecuted by all States. Two years later, the General Assembly itself approved the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, which contained an agreed and consolidated definition of the crime, which is accepted to date by the international community (Gutman and Rieff, 1999: 153 -157).

The crime of genocide, following its definition, has five elements: (i) the specific intention of the perpetrator to destroy a certain group; (ii) the total destruction or of a part of substantial importance for the survival of said group; (iii) the possibility of identifying the victims of the attack as part of one of the groups mentioned in the definition, that is, national, ethnic, racial or religious, and (iv) that the motive for the destruction is, exclusively, the very existence of the group. Each and every one of the aforementioned elements must be verified in order to consider an act as genocide (Schabas, 2004: 36-41).

Genocide is committed through five constitutive behaviors, namely: (i) killing of members of the group; (ii) serious injury to the physical or mental integrity of the members of the group; (iii) intentional subjection of the group to conditions of existence that will bring about its physical destruction; (iv) measures intended to prevent births within the group, and (v) forcible transfer of children from the group to another group (Rome Statute: Article 6).

Although the definition of genocide was established more than 50 years ago, the jurisprudence of the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda (see ad hoc International Criminal Tribunals) has been incorporating new interpretations of one of the most widely used definitions. stringent international criminal law. Thus, for example, the ad hoc tribunals in question have considered that cultural genocide –excluded in the first place from the definition described above– must be considered as part of mental or psychological genocide. Likewise, they have considered as behaviors constituting genocide some behaviors contrary to the development and psychosexual freedom of people (Schabas, 2004: 36-41) (see War crimes and Crimes against humanity).

It is important to mention that, although the definition of the crime of genocide has remained unchanged for years in the international arena, some countries have introduced criminal types of genocide into their legislation with substantive modifications. For example, the Colombian Penal Code includes social and political groups within the definition.