December 07, 2018
WASHINGTON, DC – On December 9, 2018, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum commemorates the 70th anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention) and the 30th anniversary of ratification by the United States, on November 25, 1988.
Adopted in the wake of the Holocaust, the Genocide Convention marked a turning point in world history: For the first time, nations of the world defined genocide as a crime under international law, which they undertook to prevent and punish. Today, 149 countries are parties to the Convention.
The word “genocide” was first coined in 1944 by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who lost 49 members of his family during the Holocaust. Lemkin made it his life’s work to ensure that mass atrocities that destroy a nation or a group – which, until then, were crimes without a name – were prohibited and punished as such under an international legal framework. In addition to explicitly defining genocide, the Convention included important provisions obligating nations to prevent and punish the crime and to cooperate in the extradition of alleged perpetrators.
After the Convention was ratified by the US Senate, in 1986, Elie Wiesel, the Museum’s founding chairman, who testified on behalf of the Convention, said:
''I know that a law on genocide will not stop future attempts to commit genocide. But at least we, as a moral nation, whose memories are alive, have made this statement: We are against genocide, and we cannot tolerate a world in which genocide is being perpetrated.''
Despite the universality of the Convention’s norms, regrettably Wiesel was right and cases of genocide continue today. The Museum recently announced a finding that there is compelling evidence that the Burmese military committed genocide against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Burma.
Evoking the words of the Convention, the Museum calls on the international community to use this anniversary to recommit itself to “liberate mankind from such an odious scourge” and continue efforts to prevent such crimes as a moral imperative.
A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires leaders and citizens worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.
The Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide works to make the prevention of genocide and related crimes against humanity a national and international priority. The Museum’s far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors. For more information, visit ushmm.org.
###View All Museum News Releases