July 25, 2020
Genocide – or ‘barbarism’ as it was called before the term ‘genocide’ was first coined by a Polish lawyer Raphäel Lemkin in 1944 in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe – is one of the heinous crimes of humanity. History tells us that genocide has been part of long-term human experience that occurred in various parts of the globe and in different types of civilizations and cultures – including early settler genocide and modern time genocide. The massacre of the North American Indigenous Indians (at the hands of European settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries), the Armenian genocide, the mass killing of Jewish by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, the 1994 Rowanda genocide, the 1995 Bosnian massacre, the Darfur genocide, and the recent State-led ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, to mention a few, are part and parcel of the historical experiences of genocide. We have also witnessed a number of ethnic-targeted attacks and mass killings in the different parts of Ethiopia over the last quarter of the century, and particularly in the Oromia region in most recent times. This triggers debate as to whether these identity-targeted crimes qualify as genocide or not; and what purpose such characterization may have in dealing with perpetrators. This short commentary aims to shed some light on these points by examining the relevant instruments of international law regulating the crime of genocide and the Ethiopian legal framework.
2. What Constitutes Genocide?
Lemkin coined the term ‘genocide’ from the Greek prefix genos, meaning race or tribe, and the Latin suffix cide, meaning killing; thus referring to killings targeting a particular race, tribe, or ethnic group. Lemkin developed the term ‘genocide’ mainly in response to the mass atrocities committed by the Nazi Germany against Jewish during the Holocaust, but also in response to previous instances in history of targeted killings aimed at the destruction of particular groups of
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