April 24th is the day on which Armenians across the globe commemorate victims of atrocities committed against the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918. During this time the Armenian people were systematically persecuted, expelled, deported, and murdered in an attempt to destroy their existence.   

The exact number of people murdered during this time is unknown, but estimates range between 1.3 and 1.9 million Armenians.

Moved by these atrocities and the lack of response, Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer presented a paper to the League of Nations in 1933. Lemkin was convinced there was a need to protect groups in society, his paper attempted to provide a way of condemning the atrocities committed against Armenians, and prosecuting the perpetrators. At that time achieving little success, Lemkin would become a driving force behind recognition of the crime of genocide.

He went on to write Axis Rule in Occupied Europe on the Nazi regime. In this text in 1944, Lemkin labelled Hitler's intention, the extermination of the Jewish population of Europe, as ‘genocide’, a joining of ‘genos’ meaning race, and ‘cide’ meaning to kill.

It was not until December 11, 1946, after the experience of the Holocaust, that the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Resolution 96(I). The Crime of Genocide. The resolution affirms that ‘genocide is a crime under international law’.

On December 9, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defines genocide as:  any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

        Killing members of the group

        Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group

        Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part

        Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group

        Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

The treaty is still in force today, and as we consider genocide in 2015, it is perhaps pertinent to hark back to Lemkin’s recognition that genocide is a premeditated crime, with the distinct goal of extermination.

Myths have begun to surround genocide, such that it is spontaneous, inevitable, unstoppable, and a result of primitive instincts. In fact genocide is pre-planned as Lemkin argued, it is a horrifically sophisticated crime requiring manipulation of a population towards the end goal, and it is far from inevitable or unstoppable.

Indeed, Gregory Stanton devised the eight stages of genocide, each stage is visible and possible to counter;

        Classification – dividing people into groups; ‘us’ and ‘them’. This can be done through the use of stereotypes, or excluding people targeted as different.

        Symbolisation – A visual marker to distinguish the targeted group, a symbol of hate. For example Jewish people being forced to wear yellow stars by the Nazi regime.

        Dehumanisation – The targeted group are denied their humanity and equated with vermin, animals, insects, or diseases.

        Organisation – Genocides are always planned, often by the state.

        Polarisation – Hate propaganda begins to be spread, the use of hate radio and print media can occur. People with more moderate views are also targeted.  

        Preparation – Victims are identified based on their identity and separated, for example Jewish people were forced into Ghettos by the Nazi regime.

        Extermination – The targeted group is systematically murdered.

        Denial – Genocide is always followed by denial. It is essential that we work to prevent denial and revisionism.

April marks multiple anniversaries including the start of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, the liberation of Nazi concentration camps including Bergen-Belsen, memorial day for the Armenian genocide, and the Khmer Rouge seizing power in Cambodia. As such it is a month for commemoration and solidarity, but also for action. A month for renewed commitment to prevention of genocide by being alert to its stages, busting the myths, and raising awareness of situations of concern today.

You can make this happen by discussing the issue, and spreading the word.

Learn more about genocide in 2015, and how you can take action against ongoing situations by visiting the Aegis Trust website. You can also get involved in the work of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum.

Why not spread the word on social media? You can follow us (@HolocaustCentUK), and the Aegis Trust (@Aegis_Trust) on Twitter. You can also follow Aegis Students (@AegisStudents) to hear about student led action and campaigns.


Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (2015) ‘What is a Genocide?’, HMDT [Online.] Available at: http://hmd.org.uk/page/holocaust-genocides (Accessed 8 April 2015).

Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (2015) ‘Cambodia?’, HMDT [Online.] Available at: http://hmd.org.uk/genocides/cambodia-1975 (Accessed 8 April 2015).

Lemkin, Raphael (1994) Axis Rule in Occupied Europe Concord: The Rumford Press.

Stanton, Gregory (1996) ‘The Eight Stages of Genocide’, Genocide Watch [Online.] Available at: http://www.genocidewatch.org/aboutgenocide/8stagesofgenocide.html (Accessed 8 April 2015).

United Nations (1946) ‘The Crime of Genocide’ (11 December 1946), United Nations [Online.] Available at: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/033/47/IMG/NR003347.pdf?OpenElement (Accessed 8 April 2015).

United Nations (1951) ‘Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide’ (12 January 1951), United Nations [Online.] Available at: https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%2078/volume-78-I-1021-English.pdf (Accessed 8 April 2015).

United Nations Refugee Agency (2015) ‘Raphael Lemkin’, UNHCR [Online.] Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search?page=search&docid=3b7255121c&query=genocide%20convention (Accessed 8 April 2015).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2015) ‘The Story of Raphael Lemkin’, USHMM [Online.] Available at: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007050 (Accessed 20 June 2014).