- The 100th
birth anniversary of the creator of the word genocide.
June is the month of birth of Rafael
Lemkin and, besides, 2001 is the year of the 50th
anniversary of the Convention for the Prevention and
Sanction of the Crime of Genocide.
In the two first articles of the Convention
it is stated: ‘the parties to the contract confirm
that the genocide, committed either during peacetime or
wartime, is a crime of international law that said parties
compromise to prevent and sanction.’ And: ‘In
this convention, it is understood by genocide any of the
acts mentioned hereinafter, perpetrated with the intention
of destroying, totally or partially a national, ethnic,
racial or religious group as such:’
a. Slaughter of members of a group.
(b) Serious injuries to personal or
moral safety of the members of the group.
(c) Intentional subjection of the group to conditions
of existence that have produced their total or partial
(d) Measures with the aim of preventing
births in the group.
(e) Transfer by force of children of the group to another
These two very important dates produce
in the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation
a reflection about the Holocaust phenomenon as a singular
act which marks history in an indelible way.
Lemkin, of Polish origin and attorney
of law by profession, has requested the League of
the Nations (precursor of the UN) to declare as ‘acts
of barbarism’ any way of mass extermination
of people. After the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 Lemkin
joined other Jews like him to create resistance guerrillas
against the occupying forces. He survived the slaughtering
by running away to Sweden and then to the United States
but forty seven of his relatives perished in the extermination
In 1943 he invented the word genocide
to, as Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the
UN, said, ‘give an old crime a new name’.
In 1944 the word –today so broadly
used that it seems eternal- appeared printed for the first
time in the book ‘Axis Rule in Occupied Europe’
work of Lemkin himself.
In 1946 he managed that the recently
created UN recognized the genocide as an international
crime. In 1959, year of Lemkin’s death, almost sixty
countries had ratified the Convention of Genocide . Nowadays
132 nations have joined its membership whereas sixty still
have its ratification pending, including: Japan, Indonesia,
Nigeria, Sudan, Angola and Sierra Leona.
gives us an example of moral commitment not only to governments
but also to non-governmental organizations that are themselves
so active in this cause.’, pointed out Annan
during the homage paid to Lemkin in the UN. His wife,
Nane, who participated in the ceremony, is Raoul Wallenberg’s
niece, the Swedish diplomat who between 1944 and 1945 saved
thousands of lives during his mission in Budapest. The
personal commitment adopted by Annan in relation to this
issue is not surprising. It is the continuity of a position
which was clearly exposed to our foundation
in two private interviews held in Buenos Aires and New
York in 1998.
To think of Lemkin is to remember thousands
of men and women of different nationalities who, as himself,
fought against the ruling of the Nazis. They
offer lights in a period ruled by darkness.
These individuals include,
others, Jan Karski, a Catholic and militant of the
Polish underground; the first reliable witness who informed
the allies about the Holocaust.
In the first anniversary of his death
the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation and the
Embassy of the Republic Poland will pay tribute to Karski
in Buenos Aires next June 20th.
New York, June 2001