Raphael Lemkin: The Genocide Convention

How do you move from recognizing a problem to taking action? This film and the accompanying activities focus on Raphael Lemkin’s relentless effort to establish the term "genocide" as a legal convention in order to recognize and ban the crime in international human rights law.

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Lessons and Activities

  1. Create or revisit an identity chart of Raphael Lemkin that you may have begun after watching Watcher of the Sky: Raphael Lemkin (Introduction). If you already began one, what might you add or change and why? Identity charts are graphic tools that help students consider the many factors that shape who we are as individuals and as communities. These charts can be used to deepen students’ understanding of themselves, groups, nations and historical and literary figures.
  2. The leaders of the Allied Nations agreed that they were going to prosecute those responsible for the war and for the crimes against civilians. In August 1945, the charter for an International Military Tribunal was signed, establishing a military tribunal with judges from France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States. This tribunal became known as the Nuremberg Trials. In many ways, this tribunal had to establish international law to address the Nazi crimes. The four crimes that Nuremberg prosecuted were:  conspiracy, crimes against the peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Lemkin went to Nuremberg to try to get genocide included as a crime. He failed. Why?
  3. What did Lemkin mean when he wrote, “In brief, the Allies decided a case in Nuremberg a case against a past Hitler – but refused to envisage future Hitlers”?
  4. Following his failure to influence the prosecutions at Nuremberg, Lemkin turned to the UN. How would you describe the expectations that many appear to have had for the UN? Watch the clips of the world leaders captured in this film. What were their hopes? What roles did they seem to see the UN playing for the world? What do you think is motivating them?
  5. Lemkin lobbied ambassadors to pass a resolution and then a convention to prevent and punish genocide. What does lobbying mean? How did he go about this process? How would you describe his strategy?
  6. Lemkin was eventually successful in his efforts, and the Genocide Convention was passed. However, its effects remain limited. States now have to enforce the law. How does the issue of sovereignty continue to play an important role?

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