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" GENOCIDE CONVENTION "

(pages 11-15 of the book)



Raphael LEMKIN, the world’s first international lawyer, initiated the use of the use of the term, “GENOCIDE” and succeeded in persuading the United Nations to adopt the GENOCIDE CONVENTION, in 1948, that was eventually ratified by the United States, and signed by Pres. Ronald Reagan, forty years later



Raphael Lemkin was born in Bezwodene, now near Volkovysk, Belarus), on June 24, in 1900. With his mother as an influence, Lemkin mastered nine languages by the age of 14, including English, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian. At the age of 15, Lemkin first encountered the idea of intentional mass murder of a population when news of the Turkish slaughter of Armenians reached Poland in 1915. From 1929-1934, Lemkin was the Public Prosecutor for the district court of Warsaw. While Public Prosecutor, he worked on the team that codified the penal codes of Poland. An important contact in the United States was forged, when Lemkin worked with visiting Duke University law professor, Malcolm McDermott, in translating the THE POLISH PENAL CODE OF 1932. McDermott would later provide Lemkin with help in leaving Europe.


In 1933, as public prosecutor, Lemkin presented a paper at the Madrid meeting of the League of Nations. He proposed a ban on mass slaughter, but could not persuade the League to vote on it, with the Nazi delegation laughing at the idea of such a proposal.


When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, after spending six months avoiding the Germans and making his way to Lithuania, he escaped to Sweden. In Sweden from 1940-1941, he was a lecturer at the University of Stockholm, while persuading Swedish officials to provide him with copies of Nazi directives issued to occupied countries. Professor McDermott invited Lemkin to join him at Duke in North Carolina, and with the Nazi directives in hand, he made an arduous eastern journey through Russia and Japan, arriving on the East coast of the U.S. in 1941. In the U.S., Lemkin presented the confiscated Nazi directives to the State and War Departments, and began lecturing at Duke. From 1941-1943, he worked on his most well known publication, AXIS RULE IN OCCUPIED EUROPE, in which he continued his work on the 1933 Madrid proposal, published the translated Nazi directives obtained in Sweden, analyzed Axis authority and policies in occupied Europe, and introduced the term and concept of genocide. Chapter 9 of AXIS RULE developed Lemkin's theories on genocide, the word being a combination of the Greek "genos" or "race" and the Latin "cide" or "killing," thus forming a new concept of killing based on the deliberate destruction of a national, racial, ethnic, religious, or political minority by the majority or dominating society.


At the end of the war, the great majority of Lemkin's European family had died. In 1945-1946, Lemkin became an advisor to the U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Nuremberg Trial Judge, Robert Jackson. During the trials, he fought to have the word genocide introduced into the trial record. British prosecutors objected on the grounds that the word was not found in the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY.


After Nuremberg, Lemkin turned to the United Nations General Assembly convened at Lake Success, NY in an effort to have them condemn the act of genocide. Lemkin presented a draft resolution for a Genocide Convention treaty to the countries of Cuba, India, and Panama, persuading them to sponsor the resolution. With the support of the United States. The final draft of Resolution 96 (I) was presented to and approved by the General Assembly on December 11, 1946. The resolution affirmed that genocide was a crime under international law and directed the Member States and the Social and Economic Council to draft a treaty to present to Member States for ratification.


From 1947-1948, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment on the Crime of Genocide treaty was hashed out with Lemkin regularly consulting on the articles of the treaty. Lemkin, came to the Paris Conference and was present when the treaty was adopted on December 9, 1948. On December 11, the United States was the first of a required twenty Member State signatures needed for UN treaty adoption, One hurdle remained for United States ratification: approval by the U.S. Senate. On June 16, 1949, the treaty, supported by President Truman and the State Department, arrived in Congress where it immediately ran into roadblocks, including the Korean War, McCarthyism, rising xenophobia in the U.S., the disapproval of the American Bar Association, and a movement to stop ratification led by Senator John Bricker. & in April 1953, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles withdrew any human rights treaties from consideration. Lemkin was devastated by the actions of his adopted country.


He worked tirelessly during this period, becoming the first lecturer on international law at Yale University, consulting with the United Nations, working with the U.S. Committee for a U.N. Genocide Convention, writing his autobiography and drafting the unfinished manuscript, “HISTORY OF GENOCIDE”. As well as teaching at Yale, Lemkin taught at Rutgers and Princeton Universities. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in the early 1950’s and received the Grand Cross of Cespedes from Cuba in 1950 and the Stephen Wise Award of the American Jewish Congress in 1951. His died from a heart attack on August 28, 1959, in poverty, without marrying, and is buried in Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Queens, New York with a headstone that reads "The Father of the Genocide Convention."


The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide treaty went into effect by the United Nations on January 21, 1951. The United States ratified the treaty on October 14, 1988 and President Ronald Reagan signed the bill on November 4, 1988.

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