Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group. While definitions vary among genocide scholars, a legal definition is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention of the Prevention and Punishment on the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG).
The CPPCG defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: 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; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
It is a crime to plan or incite genocide, even before killing starts, and to aid or abet genocide. The law protects four groups: national, ethnic, racial or religious groups. The crime of genocide includes the elements of both intent and action. Intent can be proven by statements or plans; but most often it is inferred by a systematic pattern of coordinated acts. Irrespective of motive, if perpetrators commit acts intended to destroy
one of the four protected groups, it is genocide. It is also important to note that the intent to destroy only a portion of a protected group, such as the intellectuals, is
still considered genocide.
While the United States and most other world powers have now ratified international law condemning genocide and they have enacted their own laws of condemnation, many
of these same countries have not taken actions to condemn previously verified acts of genocide nor have they taken steps to prevent current and ongoing acts of genocide.
In addition to a forty year delay in obtaining the signature of the United States to accept the CPPCG, a major criticism of the international community is that responses to genocide to date have been reactive and not proactive. Although signatories to the CPPCG are required to prevent and punish acts of genocide, both in peace and wartime, some countries, including the United States, have refused to intervene. In addition, some countries, including the United States, only signed the CPPCG with the proviso that no claim of genocide could be brought against it at the International Court of Justice without their own consent.
In December 2008, the Prevention of Genocide Task Force, co-chaired by Madeline Albright, a former United States Secretary of State, and William Cohen, a former United States Secretary of Defense, released its final report, which concluded that the United States Government can prevent genocide and mass atrocities in the future. In the words of Mr. Cohen: “This report provides a blueprint that can enable the United States to take preventive action, along with international partners, to forestall the specter of future cases of genocide and mass atrocities”. The report’s recommendations include a proactive role of the United States President, which would demonstrate to the United States and the World that preventing genocide and mass atrocities is a national priority; creating a body within the United States National Security Council to analyze threats and consider preventative action; setting up a fund of two hundred and fifty million dollars for crisis prevention and response; and helping to create an international network for the sharing of information and the coordination of preventative actions against future genocide.