Initiative on the UN Genocide Convention

A Call to create an Independent Committee to review the Genocide Convention

Join Us & Support our Initiative »


The current crisis in Syria highlighted the urgent need for the UN to develop an "Enforcement Mechanism" to uphold the "UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide" ("the Convention").The Convention was first adopted at the United Nations General Assembly on 9th December 1948 and came into force on 12th January 1951, having been ratified by the necessary 22 signatories. Since 1951 the Convention has been further ratified by 140 of the UN member states (learn more).

Years of campaigning by the lawyer Raphael Lemkin led to the creation of the "Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide." In the Convention, the contracting parties confirmed unanimously that Genocide whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law. They also agreed that Genocide must be both prevented and punished.

Furthermore, it specifically included various ancillary obligations for its signatories:

  • The duty to prevent the crime
  • The obligation to enact legislation and punish the crime
  • The requirement to cooperate in the extradition of those accused of the crime, inter alia

The Convention was the first to give a name to an act that shaped the Second World War and openly confronted the twentieth century with its absolute horror.  It also laid the groundwork for the definition of the crime by creating a legal framework to guide the work of its prevention through the mechanism of international law.

However, the definition of genocide in the Convention has remained relatively narrow using only a partial representation of the legal and academic work undertaken by Raphael Lemkin. In addition, the question of the reportage and the prevention of current instances of the crime continue to remain unclear and therefore the Convention is often criticized as being ineffective.

Following the 1948 ratification of the Convention the world was supposed to be, in theory, "A World-Free from Genocide". The lack of an enforcement mechanism of the Convention, however, enables the current no-go situation where institutions, such as the UN Security Council are incapable of offering any kind of enforcement of the Convention thereby preventing the crime being committed. As a direct result, instances of Genocide and ethnic cleansing have continued to occur and the world has witnessed a direct increase in the significant number of atrocities being committed such as in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Rwanda, Darfur and now Syria.

The following list of acts of genocide gives background information of  instances of genocide and some instances of well-publicized mass killings (which have not been legally classified as genocide), since the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide formally became part of international law in 1951:

  • the First Sudanese Civil War 1955 - 1972,
  • the Brazilian Indian Genocide 1957 - 1968,
  • Tibet 1959 - 1966,
  • Rwanda 1962 - 1963,
  • the Zanzibar Revolution 1964,
  • Indonesia 1965 -1967,
  • the Nigerian-Biafran War 1967 - 1970,
  • Aché Indians 1968 - 1978,
  • Guatemala 1968 - 1996,
  • Bangladesh 1971,
  • Uganda 1971 - 1979,
  • Burundi 1972 & 1973,
  • Cambodia 1975 - 1979,
  • Second Sudanese Civil War 1983-2005,
  • Sri Lanka 1983 - 2009,
  • The Khojaly Massacre 1992,
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992 - 1995,
  • Rwanda 1994,
  • North Korea mid 1990s - present,
  • Darfur 2003- present,
  • Mass Atrocities in Libya 2011,
  • Yemen 2011,
  • Syria 2011 - present.

Despite the classification of genocide as an illegal act in international law for over 60 years and certainly following the ratification of the Convention, no direct action has been taken by the international community against acts of Genocide. Groups of people, communities and nations continue to suffer and die in circumstances that contravene both the letter of the law and the common intent of the Convention. In instances where it has been established that the act of genocide has occurred or is in process the response of the international community has been, at best, slow and weak and at worst, totally and utterly ineffective.
Whilst the international community has developed mechanisms for prosecuting the perpetrators of genocide under the UN Human Rights Declaration, there remains little or no evidence that it is willing and able to prevent such acts from happening again. The upmost priority in any case, however, and before punishing previous offenders of the crime, is to prevent Acts of Genocide and other atrocities from being committed in the first place.

It is with this aim that the IPAHP has launched an Initiative focused on achieving a fast-track to halting "Acts of Genocide" taking place across the world, as a continuation of the historic work of Raphael Lemkin. 

We call for the creation of "An Independent Committee within the United Nations to revisit and review the Convention", and in turn develop specific proposal for revision and amendment to "the Convention". It is our goal to enforce the prevention of the crime, thus enabling a rapid response to "Acts of Genocide" and other atrocities.