Defining Genocide: No Loopholes for 'Odious Scourge'


"Lawyers have tried to find loopholes in the United Nations\' standard article - I call the gold standard - for what genocide is," Godfrey Uzoigwe says. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)

A crucial component of genocide is the act of targeting a specific people, a genocide scholar says.

Godfrey Uzoigwe, retired professor of history from Mississippi State University, reflects on the key components of a definition for genocide in a new video segment from EthicsDaily.com in conjunction with April's Genocide Awareness Month.

"Lawyers have tried to find loopholes in the United Nations' standard article - I call the gold standard - for what genocide is," says Uzoigwe, a Nigerian, who holds a doctorate from Oxford University.

On Dec. 9, 1948, the U.N.'s general assembly adopted a document from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The document calls genocide "a crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations and condemned by the civilized world."

The document also recognizes "that at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity."

It goes on to state that "in order to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge, international co-operation is required."

Article II of the document says that "genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

Acts listed include "killing members of the group" and "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part."

Acts punishable include not only "genocide" itself but also "attempt to commit genocide" and "complicity in genocide."

Uzoigwe, in a recent video interview with EthicsDaily.com, emphasizes that the crime of genocide necessarily involves intentionally seeking out members of a particular group.

"You have to be targeted because of what you are, because of what you believe," Uzoigwe says. "And that does not mean that if you are an Igbo or Hausa or Yoruba that all of you have to be killed for the crime to be seen as genocidal. But that you are targeted is important."

Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba are large tribes in Nigeria. They were at the center of the Nigerian genocide beginning in 1966, six years after Nigeria gained independence from British colonial rule.

"Lawyers may quibble as much as they like. They can debate until the cows come home," says Uzoigwe of defining genocide. "But they will not avoid this idea of targeting a people."

Uzoigwe is the author of numerous books and articles, including the article "The Igbo Genocide, 1966-1970 and Its Aftermath." He is also an interviewee in EthicsDaily.com's forthcoming documentary, "Genocide 66," about the role U.S. Christian missionaries played in saving lives in Nigeria during tribal conflict in 1966.

Editor's note: This is the fourth article in a series focused on genocide. Part five, looking at the origins of the term "genocide," will appear tomorrow.

Previous articles in the series are:

Genocide Is Worse Than War

Genocide Awareness is Needed In April, Year-Round

Godfrey Uzoigwe Video Interview

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Tags: EthicsDaily Staff, Genocide, Godfrey Uzoigwe


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