On the Original Understanding of the Crime of Genocide

Hannibal Travis

Florida International University College of Law

December 20, 2011

Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, Spring 2012
Florida International University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1975137

This article is an extended exercise in 'genocide originalism.' To wit, some leading genocide scholars have propounded a supposedly “legal” definition that is unduly narrow. Purportedly based on the drafting history of the Genocide Convention, this narrow definition actually rests upon incomplete and selective references to legal sources. This narrow definition also has important effects on debates concerning whether partial genocides, such as by 'ethnic cleansing' may constitute the crime of genocide.

In this article, I survey evidence that the drafters and ratifiers of the Genocide Convention did not adopt a requirement of genocidal intent that would be nearly impossible to satisfy, namely an intent to totally destroy a race. Efforts to equate genocidal intent with total racial destruction have been disturbingly common within the United Nations system over the past decade, including in the findings of International Court of Justice (ICJ) on genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (ICID) on genocide in western Sudan and eastern Chad, and of the trial chamber of the U.N.-backed International Criminal Court (ICC) on genocide in Darfur. At the root of this misunderstanding is the equation of the intent to destroy a group required by Article II of the Genocide Convention with a deliberate plan or policy of a state to exterminate the members of an entire racial group, or a total genocide. Contrary to this distortion of the Convention, its drafters rejected efforts to limit genocide to total destruction, a plan or policy of destruction, or a motive of racial hatred. This article contends that the original understanding of the crime of genocide did not require a total genocide, and that this original understanding is reflected in the text of the Genocide Convention, the 'travaux preparatoires', and the course of performance of the treaty by the United Nations and its member states.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 2

Keywords: genocide, originalism, international law, travaux, definitionalism, Sudan, Darfur, Bosnia, Srebrenica, Rwanda, Cambodia, Kosovo, Armenia, Turkey, Cyprus, Biafra, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iraq, Kurdistan, Japan, China, Taiwan, Tibet, Soviet Union, Russia, India, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria

JEL Classification: K33

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Date posted: December 22, 2011 ; Last revised: March 5, 2014

Suggested Citation

Travis, Hannibal, On the Original Understanding of the Crime of Genocide (December 20, 2011). Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, Spring 2012; Florida International University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1975137. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1975137 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1975137

Contact Information

Hannibal Travis (Contact Author)
Florida International University College of Law ( email )
11200 SW 8th St.
RDB Hall 1097
Miami, FL 33199
United States

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