The need to prevent genocide and punish those responsible has been of concern to the international community since the end of the Second World War. Genocide was defined as a crime under international law in the Genocide Convention of 1948 (the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide). The Convention makes it a crime to commit genocide, plan or conspire to commit genocide, incite or cause other people to commit genocide or be complicit or involved in any act of genocide
Today, all governments are bound by this law whether they have signed the Convention or not.
Despite the Convention, massive atrocities have been committed since — including the 1994 genocide in Rwanda — which have underscored the international community’s failure to make the prevention of genocide a reality
In response to this collective failure and in an effort to learn from the past, former Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, outlined a five-point action plan for the prevention of genocide in 2004. This included the creation of the position of Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide whose mandate includes acting as an early-warning mechanism regarding potential situations that could result in genocide.
Watch the signing ceremony of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in Paris on 11 December 1948:
Watch "From Prevention to Protection: the Genocide Convention 65 Years On" -- panel discussion, 9 December 2013:
Genocide is not something that happens overnight or without warning. It is, in fact, a deliberate strategy. The effects of genocide are felt beyond the borders of the affected country as it negatively impacts the safety and security of people in neighbouring areas.
The impact of genocide on future generations is truly enormous.
Today, the effects of the genocide in Rwanda are still felt in many different ways both inside the country and in neighbouring states, including in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Listen to Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term "genocide" in 1944:
Warning Signs of Genocide
The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, working with other genocide experts, has compiled a list of warning signs that could indicate that a community is at risk for genocide or similar atrocities. It includes:
- the country has a totalitarian or authoritarian government where only one group controls power;
- the country is at war or there is a lawless environment in which massacres can take place without being quickly noticed or easily documented.