Posts tagged with: Samantha Power

Ukraine-Memorial-Holodomor

Holodomor Memorial in Kyiv, Ukraine

Seventy years ago this November, a new word entered the lexicon which would contextualize and put a name to the mass killings of minority groups that had gone on for centuries: genocide.

The Polish-Jewish lawyer who coined the word, Raphael Lemkin, used it for the first time in his book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, published in November 1944. Lemkin had been deeply troubled with mass killing and the lack of legal framework for adjudication of its perpetrators from a young age. He found it appalling that in the name of “state sovereignty” a leader was effectively able to kill his own citizens, without punishment under the law.

Lemkin’s coining of the word was followed by a relentless, single-handed effort to lobby diplomats, heads of states, and then the newly formed United Nations to create a law which would make illegal this recently named crime against humanity. Lemkin’s efforts were eventually rewarded when on December 9, 1948 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed into law the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

History reveals many “crimes against humanity” which preceded this development in international law. The current U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, notes a few of these in her book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.

And there are still many other largely unknown genocides that deserve our recognition. One of these will be covered in an upcoming Acton Institute art and lecture event on Thursday, November 6: “The Famine Remembered: Lessons from Ukraine’s Holodomor and Soviet Communism.”

(more…)

Lemkin

Raphael Lemkin

Today marks the 54th year since the passing of one of the world’s most influential international human rights lawyers. Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term ‘genocide’, made the crime illegal under international law, and possessed an almost prophetic sense of the atrocities that would occur under Nazi tyranny in World War II, died a largely unnoticed man. Only seven people attended his funeral, and to this day, many have not heard of Lemkin or the great contributions credited to his name.

The following account of Lemkin’s life and work is largely drawn from “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, the 2002 book by Samantha Power. Power was named U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations on August 2nd.

Early Insights

Born in 1900 to a large Jewish family in the village of Bezwodene, Poland (now near Volkovysk, Belarus), Lemkin became conscious of crimes against religious and minority groups at a young age. At the age of 12, he read the book, Quo Vadis, which recounts the Roman Emperor Nero’s massacres of Christian converts in the first century.

Lemkin learned about the Ottoman Empire’s extermination of its Armenian minority in 1915, and the 1920 assassination of Mehmet Talaat, the architect of the genocide. While studying linguistics at the University of Lvov, he asked one of his professors why the Armenians did not arrest Talaat instead. The professor said there was no law under which he could be arrested. “Consider the case of the farmer who owns a flock of chickens,” he said. “He kills them and this is his business. If you interfere, you are trespassing.” Lemkin was deeply troubled by this response and the idea that “state sovereignty” effectively permitted leaders to exterminate entire minority groups. (more…)