December 9, 1948 – The U.N. Adopted The Genocide Convention

On this day “The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly as General Assembly Resolution 260. The Convention entered into force on January 12, 1951 and defines genocide in legal terms 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;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

You can see which nations are signatories or parties to this Convention here.

The United States signed the treaty on December 11, 1948 but it was not ratified until November 25, 1988 along with a proviso granting immunity from prosecution for genocide without its consent as part of the following “Reservations and Understandings”:

Reservations:

“(1) That with reference to article IX of the Convention, be fore any dispute to which the United States is a party may be submitted to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice under this article, the specific consent of the United States is required in each case.

(2) That nothing in the Convention requires or authorizes legislation or other action by the United States of America prohibited by the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the United States.”

Understandings:

“(1) That the term `intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such’ appearing in article II means the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such by the acts specified in article II.

(2) That the term `mental harm’ in article II (b) means permanent impairment of mental faculties through drugs, torture or similar techniques.

(3) That the pledge to grant extradition in accordance with a state’s laws and treaties in force found in article VII extends only to acts which are criminal under the laws of both the requesting and the requested state and nothing in article VI affects the right of any state to bring to trial before its own tribunals any of its nationals for acts committed outside a state.

(4) That acts in the course of armed conflicts committed without the specific intent required by article II are not sufficient to constitute genocide as defined by this Convention.

(5) That with regard to the reference to an international penal tribunal in article VI of the Convention, the United States declares that it reserves the right to effect its participation in any such tribunal only by a treaty entered into specifically for that purpose with the advice and consent of the Senate.”

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The treaty had languished in the Senate for many years, in spite of the fact that Wisconsin Democratic Senator William Proxmire took to the Senate floor every day that it was in session for 19 years, from 1967 until 1986 and gave more than 3,000 speeches to urge its adoption. Today, however, he is probably better remembered for his creation of the Golden Fleece Award, presented to public officials who are thought to commit the most egregious acts of wasting public monies.

Senator William Proxmire

Senator William Proxmire

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