Raphael Lemkin is the person who invented the term, "genocide," in his book "Axis Rule in Occupied Europe" (1943). He combined "genos" (race, people) and "cide" (to kill).

Lemkin defined genocide as the following:

“Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.”

When Lemkin proposed a treaty against genocide to the United Nations in 1945, he defined it as the following:

“The crime of genocide should be recognized therein as a conspiracy to exterminate national, religious or racial groups. The overt acts of such a conspiracy may consist of attacks against life, liberty or property of members of such groups merely because of their affiliation with such groups. The formulation of the crime may be as follows:

“Whoever, while participating in a conspiracy to destroy a national, racial or religious group, undertakes an attack against life, liberty or property of members of such groups is guilty of the crime of genocide.”



Not only was Raphael Lemkin instrumental in developing the term genocide, but his research was used as one of the bases for determining the Nuremberg trials in 1945, where he served as legal adviser to the U.S. Chief Prosecutor.

The recognition of genocide in the Nuremberg trials was a considerable achievement. However, the trials handled cases of war guilt only, making genocide in times of peace not punishable under those terms. Unsatisfied with this result, Lemkin resolved to carry on his campaign to establish genocide as a crime under international law, regardless of peace time/war time standing. His persistent and persuasive lobbying paid off when a further resolution in favor of an international convention was put before the United Nations. The resolution was approved and Lemkin became an adviser in the writing of an international treaty to that effect. On December 9th, 1948, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly. It represented a triumph in the struggle that Lemkin had begun some fifteen years earlier.

Once the convention was in place, Lemkin continued to lobby relentlessly for its ratification. He did so until his death in 1959. Dr. Raphael Lemkin was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work and was honored with a number of other awards which included the Grand Cross of Cespedes from Cuba in 1950 and the Stephen Wise Award of the American Jewish Congress in 1951. On the 50th anniversary of the Convention entering into force (after Lemkin had died), Dr. Raphael Lemkin was also honored by the UN Secretary-General as an inspiring example of moral engagement.

However, the great irony of Raphael's life is when he started talking about genocide in the United States and other places he lost his funding and died in poverty. The United States, Lemkin's own adopted country, did not ratify the Genocide Convention during his lifetime. Lemkin described his efforts to prevent genocide as a failure, writing, "The fact is that the rain of my work fell on a fallow plain, only this rain was a mixture of the blood and tears of eight million innocent people throughout the world. Included also were the tears of my parents and my friends (D. Irvin-Erickson, "Raphael Lemkin and the Concept of Genocide", University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017, p.1, 229)." Lemkin was not widely known until the 1990s, when international prosecutions of genocide began in response to atrocities in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and "genocide" began to be understood as the crime of crimes.


The Genocide Convention adopted by the UN in Paris in 1948 defines genocide without the precursors and persecution that Lemkin noted in his definitions. Lemkin's work was instrumental in the adoption of this convention. The Convention defines genocide as follows:

"Article I: The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish."

“Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means 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.”


“Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide.”


Read the Resolution Here on the U.N.'s website PDF


Our Reports

Raphael Lemkin's List of Genocides


Raphael Lemkin

The Many Genocides of Raphael Lemkin (Daily Sabah, 9-11-14)

Raphael Lemkin Defines Genocide (Genocide Watch, 3-14-13)

Life of Raphael Lemkin (Lemkin House)

Raphael Lemkin (Wikipedia)



Lemkin on Genocide eBook (Amazon)

In this book, Lemkin produces a list of genocides.

The Autobiography of Raphael Lemkin (Amazon)


Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Read the Resolution Here on the U.N.'s website PDF


Nuremberg Principles

Nuremberg Principles For International War Crimes (World Future Fund Report)


We Change Genocide

We Charge Genocide (Wikipedia)

We Change Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People (Black Past, 7-15-11)