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2016 | 2(10) | 69-85

Article title

Jak ludobójstwo zostało uznane za zbrodnię − dziedzictwo Rafała Lemkina


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How genocide became a crime: legacy of Raphael Lemkin

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Raphael Lemkin is hardly known to a Polish audiences. One of the most honored Poles of the XX century, forever revered in the history of human rights, nominated six times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Lemkin sacrificed his entire life to make a real change in the world: the creation of the term “genocide” and making it a crime under international law. How long was his struggle to establish what we now take as obvious, what we now take for granted? This paper offers his short biography, showing his long road from realizing that the killing one person was considered a murder but that under international law in 1930s the killing a million was not. Through coining the term “genocide” in 1944, he helped make genocide a criminal charge at the Nuremburg war crimes trials of Nazi leaders in late 1945, although there the crime of genocide did not cover killing whole tribes when committed on inhabitants of the same country nor when not during war. He next lobbied the new United Nations to adopt a resolution that genocide is a crime under international law, which it adopted on 11 December, 1946. Although not a U.N. delegate – he was “Totally Unofficial,” the title of his autobiography – Lemkin then led the U.N. in creating the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted 9 December, 1948. Until his death in 1958, Lemkin lobbied tirelessly to get other U.N. states to ratify the Convention. His legacy is that, as of 2015, 147 U.N. states have done so, 46 still on hold. His tomb inscription reads simply, “Dr. Raphael Lemkin (1900–1959), Father of the Genocide Convention”. Without him the world as we know it, would not be possible.







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