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Yehuda Bauer Defines Genocide

Yehuda Bauer, Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The Genocide Convention of 1948 defines genocide as an action, or intent to action, to annihilate a group as such: ethnic, national, racial, or religious. And there are certain actions that are then described that lead up or that can lead to genocide, such as kidnapping of children, such the attempt to annihilate national life, and so on. And this definition is used by politicians today. It's the only definition that we have. It was reached as a result of horse-trading between powers in 1948. It was not a result of any academic discussion.

The original term "genocide" was coined by Raphael Lemkin, who was a Polish Jewish refugee lawyer in New York in '42-'43. He defined genocide as a result of his knowledge of what happening to the Polish people at that time. And his definition included only ethnic, national, and racial groups, because religious and political groups, for instance, are made up of people who do this by choice.

In other words, if I believe in a certain religion and that religion is being persecuted, then I can change my religion -- at least in theory. Millions of communists in Germany became Nazis. The Jehovah's Witnesses, for instance, who were a religious minority in Germany, were persecuted. Most of them stuck out for their beliefs and suffered for it. But there was obviously a minority of Jehovah's Witnesses who changed their religious belief because they were persecuted. Nothing then happened to them.

So, there's a vast difference between national, ethnic, and racial groups on one hand, and religious and political groups on the other hand. And I would suggest -- but I know that what I suggest will not be accepted by the politicians of this world -- that genocide should be defined as it originally was by Lemkin: to concern national, ethnic, and racial groups. Because those are people that cannot choose what they are; they are born into it. And that fate makes them particularly vulnerable if that particular group is being persecuted.