Accuracy in Media

Those human-rights activists combatting genocide in Darfur and lobbying for the Armenian Genocide Resolution would likely be displeased to hear that important massacres and purges may never make the history books as genocide?or be prosecuted?because the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention does not include social and political groups as possible victims of genocide.

The 1948 Genocide Convention defined genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Punishable genocidal actions which can referred to an international tribunal include killing the aforementioned groups, inflicting serious bodily or mental harm, “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” preventing births by this group, and “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Arguably, many of the Communist purges contained these conditions, with a key difference that they were perpetrated against socioeconomic groups, such as the kulaks or the bourgeoisie.

Nicholas Eberstadt, American Enterprise Institute Chair in Political Economy, estimated at the AEI conference, “Understanding Political Repression in our Times,” that both Mao and the Soviets reduced their population between 5% and 6% during their respective communist transitions. But these crimes won’t be labeled genocide any time soon, largely because Soviet lawyers helped form the definition of genocide, argues Norman Naimark, a Professor of East European Studies at Stanford University. “…most of what we’re talking about here in terms of the evolution of thinking about genocide was heavily influenced by the Soviets, yet subsequently when we think about genocide we exclude the Soviets?most scholars do?because of what is apparently, or supposedly an intellectual argument based on the Genocide Convention, which [the Soviets] themselves formed,” said Naimark. “So the final Genocide Convention then is a concession… and the State Department understood this too. It was a concession to the Soviets, in order to get a unanimous General Assembly resolution on the Genocide Convention of December 1948.” he said.

Paul Hollander, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, strongly disagreed with Naimark at the conference, because he believes that Soviet actions, while lamentable, should not be termed genocide because they were not systematically focused on a particular group and lacked the systematic death camp machinery of the Holocaust. A Harvard University Davis Center Associate, Hollander argues that the categories the Soviets used to target victims were more “flexible” than those used by the Nazis, and that these categories were constantly redesigned according to political expedience.

A. Dirk Moses, author of Genocide and Settler Society, notes that “Despite clear guidelines from Lemkin and the UN, scholars have wrangled with one another over the meaning of genocide or suggested alternative definitions. Part of the reason for this is that Lemkin’s writings are open to rival interpretations.” Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the term genocide, originally labeled the mass murder of a particular group as ‘barbarism’ in his 1933 German essay, “Akte der Barbarei und des Vandalismus als delicta juris gentium,” roughly translated as “Documentation of Barbarism and Vandalism under the Law of Nations.” In the German article, Lemkin defined barbarism as the “Ausrottung,” or extermination of, “ethnischer, nationaler, konfessioneller, sozialer Menschheitsgruppen gerichteten Vergewaltigungen, m?gen dieselben politischen, religi?sen oder sonstigen Beweggr?nden entspringen…” In other words, he included the extermination of ethnic, national, creed, and social groups for political or religious reasons as part of his early conception of genocide.

However, a Polish Jew himself who had relocated to America, Lemkin’s own heritage caused him to refocus his efforts against the horrors of the Holocaust and crimes against his fellow Poles. America was aligned with the Soviets during World War II, and Naimark argues that “In 1944 [the War Department is] very anxious for the Soviets to fight on our side. They weren’t anxious to offend the Soviets in any way by one of their publications.”

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