April 1st is the first day of Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, a month of remembrance, reflection, and action. The anniversaries of several genocides take place in April—including Rwanda, Cambodia, and Armenia—with Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) falling on May 5th this year. Jewish World Watch will be sharing a series of blogs and social media posts throughout the month of April in order to both pay tribute to the millions who have suffered as a result of these atrocities, and to raise awareness about ongoing conflicts in Sudan, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
During this month, you will learn about ongoing and past genocides and mass atrocities, as well as have opportunities to take action, advocate for policy changes, and speak out against ongoing atrocities. We hope that you will join us and the genocide prevention movement.
To launch Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month here are a couple of ways you can get involved right now!
One of our primary advocacy actions this month is encouraging the passage of the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, a recently introduced piece of legislation which seeks to strengthen the U.S. government’s ability to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities around the world. It is in your hands to make sure that your Senators support this Act. Click here to send a letter urging your Senators to co-sponsor the Act now!
Walk With Us
Join us for our annual Walk to End Genocide and show your support for the genocide and atrocities prevention movement.
Every year thousands of people, made up of activists, community leaders, students, faith groups, and partners, all come together to take a stand against the violence occurring in areas such as Darfur and Eastern Congo. Join us in East Meadow, NY on April 10th, Los Angeles on April 17th, or in Washington, DC on May 1st. Not in LA or DC? You can still participate in the Walk virtually, or host an event near you! By Walking with us, you will raise awareness, promote policy changes, and fundraise to support Jewish World Watch’s projects on the ground and advocacy efforts here at home.
Where does the term “genocide” come from?
Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959), a Polish Jewish linguist, lawyer, professor, and activist, spent his career advocating for the creation of laws acknowledging the existence of, and implementing consequences for, the act of genocide. When Lemkin learned about the massacres of the Armenians in 1915—in what we now call the Armenian genocide—he sought to understand how the mass killing of a people, simply because of who they are, was not a crime. Later in life Lemkin would be directly affected by genocide, as 49 members of his own family were killed during the Holocaust. In 1944, in his book “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe”, Lemkin coined the term genocide–from the Greek genos (race or tribe) and the Latin cide (killing)–to describe an old practice that had not yet had a name. Lemkin dedicated his life to advocate for international recognition of the crime of genocide, and in 1948 with the United Nations’ adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Lemkin finally succeeded.
What is genocide?
In 1948, after World War II and the Holocaust, the newly formed United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Genocide Convention was the first piece of international human rights law that the United Nations adopted.
Article 2 of the Convention defines genocide as:
Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
What has defining genocide accomplished? : A Snapshot
The introduction of the term genocide transformed discussions about the gravest crimes against humanity. The “intent to destroy” a specific targeted group is arguably what makes the crime of genocide both unique and controversial, as many legal scholars and historians claim that proving intent is incredibly difficult. Additionally, certain analysts claim that the definition of the crime is too narrow, as it excludes political and social groups. It is also hard to define an act committed “in part,” and the definition does not, and should not, define a numeric threshold. Further, the definition speaks of acts committed directly against people, and not necessarily actions directed against the environments and/or cultures of such groups; something Lemkin felt very strongly about. To this day, discussions about the use of the term genocide are constantly debated.
Nevertheless, Lemkin’s hard work in defining the word set the groundwork for the international community to be able to distinguish the acts of certain perpetrators and states. In 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) convicted Jean-Paul Akayesu, the mayor of Taba, Rwanda for the crime of genocide for the first time. On March 24, 2016, the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic guilty of genocide, amongst other crimes against humanity. Additionally, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established with the ratification of the Rome Statute in 2002 to hold perpetrators accountable for the worst international crimes: genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. To this day, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is the only individual to have been indicted by the Court for the crime of genocide. We are still waiting for the international community to bring Bashir to The Hague to face justice.
What are “mass atrocities?”
“Mass atrocities” is a catchall phrase used to refer to genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and/or ethnic cleansing. Under international law, only genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes have official definitions. Generally, crimes against humanity refer to the widespread and systematic attack against civilians. War crimes on the other hand, defined in the Geneva Conventions, can refer to attacks against certain protected populations—whether they are civilian or combatant. You can read more about these crimes and how they are defined according to the ICC, here.
As the month of April continues, we will be bringing both genocide and mass atrocities to the forefront—looking to the past to honor those who have suffered, looking at the present to take action now, and looking to the future to ensure that we can prevent such atrocities. Join Jewish World Watch during Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month to remember, learn, and take action.
Post #2: The Holocaust – Hear the story of Francine Christophe, a French Jew who, along with her mother, was deported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1944 in northern Germany.
Post #3: The Rwandan Genocide – Watch a short clip from the History Channel’s documentary “Rwanda-Do Scars Ever Fade?”
Post #4: Sudan – Learn about the conditions in the refugee camps of Eastern Chad and take action by encouraging your Congressperson to sign on to a letter to President Obama encouraging him to step up his engagement on Sudan.
Post #5: Advocacy 101– Check out our advocacy guide to learn more about the legislative process and understand how you can become an advocate for human rights.
Post #6: Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act– In honor of Genocide Atrocities and Prevention Month 2016, TAKE ACTION and encourage your Senators to co-sponsor GAPA!
Post #7: South Sudan– Listen to Emmanuel Mborie-Idie’s story and learn more about the world’s newest country.
Post #8: The Cambodian Genocide– Hear the stories of those who survived the violence of the Khmer Rouge regime.
Post #9: The Democratic Republic of the Congo– Learn about conflict minerals and corruption in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Post #10: The Bosnian War and Srebrenica Genocide– Listen to CNN International correspondent Christiane Amanpour reflect on the Bosnian War and the events of the Srebrenica Genocide
Post #11: The Armenian Genocide– Learn about the atrocities committed against the Armenian community, which inspired Raphael Lemkin to coin the term genocide
Post #12: #DearNextPresident– Make your voice heard! Ask the next President of the United States to make genocide and mass atrocities prevention a priority!
Post #13: The Yazidis: Learn about the first declaration of genocide by the United States government since Darfur, Sudan in 2004.