The term “genocide” is used to refer to a planned, systematic, and deliberate destruction of a particular cultural, ethnic, political, religious, or racial group. Numerous examples of genocides can be found throughout history; some notable 20th century genocides occurred under the Nazis during the Holocaust, in Bosnia under Slobodan Milosevic, and in the African regions of Rwanda and Darfur. Collectively, the international community agrees that genocide is a heinous act, and several attempts have been made to intervene in obvious genocides.
This term was coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, a man who knew of which he spoke, since he escaped from Poland shortly before the Nazis took over. According to Lemkin, genocide is not necessarily something which happens all at once; it can be extremely gradual but still aimed at the end goal of total annihilation. This can make genocide difficult to identify at times, because it may be well advanced by the time outside observers realize what is happening.
There are a number of ways to carry out a genocide. Outright murder of the group in question is common, of course, as is inflicting serious injuries which lead to mass loss of life. Genocide can be more insidious as well; for example, members of the group may be forced to undergo sterilization, and their children may be taken from them and raised as children of another ethnic group. Another common trait to many genocides is the deliberate undermining of quality of life for the group, as was seen in Poland when Jewish people were forced into ghettos. By creating situations which are untenable for life, taking away the ability to reproduce, and murdering people in an ethnic group, a genocide will slowly but steadily ensure that the group is stamped out.
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly passed a law declaring that genocide was illegal and clearly defining the term, in the interests of eliminating confusion. Since then, several government leaders have been prosecuted for genocide, and several instances of genocide have been identified and addressed. However, the United Nations has been accused of being slow to act in situations where genocide is suspected.
Some other examples of genocide include the mass extermination of Christian Armenians in Turkey in the early part of the 20th century, the forced labor marches and camps of Stalin in Russia, and the infamous Rape of Nanjing which was perpetrated by Japanese forces in the early stages of the Second World War.