Rethinking Genocidal Intent: The Case for a Knowledge-Based Interpretation

36 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2009

Date Written: 1999


From its initial codification in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide to its most recent inclusion in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the international crime of genocide has been defined as involving an "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnicity, racial or religious group, as such." The predominant interpretation of this language views genocide as a crime of "specific" or "special" intent, in which the perpetrator deliberately seeks the whole or partial destruction of a protected group. This Note pursues an alternate approach. Relying on both the history of the Genocide Convention and on a substantive critique of the specific intent interpretation, it argues that, in defined situations, principal culpability for genocide should extend to those who may personally lack a specific genocidal purpose, but who commit genocidal acts while understanding the destructive consequences of their actions.

Suggested Citation

Greenawalt, Alexander K. A., Rethinking Genocidal Intent: The Case for a Knowledge-Based Interpretation (1999). Columbia Law Review, Vol. 99, p. 2259, 1999, Available at SSRN:

Alexander K. A. Greenawalt (Contact Author)

Pace University Elisabeth Haub School of Law ( email )

78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603
United States
914-422-4092 (Phone)
914-422-4168 (Fax)


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