Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole, or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group. The Nazi Holocaust that killed over six million Jews led to the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Although the term “genocide” was coined in 1944, the attempt by groups—ethnic, racial, religious, or national—to eliminate another group is as old as recorded history. Historians debate whether certain cases were technically “genocide,” but efforts to eliminate another group have existed in every century and on every continent and stain the history of virtually every country (including the United States).
After World War II, the cry “Never Again” referred to continuing efforts to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and ensure it is not repeated. Yet, in every decade and across the globe, there have been scores of genocides, many continuing to this day.
This year’s Colorado Springs World Affairs Council High School Symposium asks four questions:
- How widespread is the problem of genocide?
There is no agreed list of genocides. Often states have a political interest in not naming something a genocide. Often societies are reluctant to examine actions in their own history. But whether we name it as such, genocides continue.
- Why do genocides happen?
There are two dimensions of this question. First, what happens in societies to foment the kind of hate that leads to genocide? The second is more psychological: what motivates individuals to inflict such cruelty on others?
- How do societies recover from genocides?
Some societies continue as if nothing happened. In some cases, there is legal accountability, typically through criminal tribunals or the International Criminal Court. In some cases, there are efforts at reconciliation between perpetrators and victims, so that both can get on with their lives. How effective are these?
- What will it take for genocides to end in your generation?
That’s up to you.