Lemkin was tireless advocate for defining genocide as a crime: expert

In the wake of the 2nd conference, dedicated to the acclaimed Polish lawyer of Jewish descent Raphael Lemkin and his impact on contemporary law studies, that took place on December 3-5 in Warsaw, PolandIN’s guest was Professor Kevin Jon Heller, an expert in the field of criminal law.

“The New Dawn of Europe after the Great War: The Theory of the State and Genocide in the 20th Century” was the title of the conference organised by the Pilecki Institute as a part of the Lemkin 2018-2023 project.

In the opinion of Kevin Jon Heller, Raphael Lemkin was not just an academic or an intellectual writing his books and letting other people deal with real world implications, but he was a tireless advocate not just for the genocide concept as a crime but also for taking it seriously in judicial proceedings.

Mr Lemkin created the term genocide in 1944. In his publication called Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, he described it as follows: “(...) Genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups”.

Although the word genocide was used in indictments at the Nuremberg trials, held from 1945, it was solely as a descriptive term, not yet as a formal legal term. Mr Heller points out that it was thanks to the efforts of Raphael Lemkin who kept lobbying the American war crimes programme to develop genocide as a judicial concept in the trials.

The main goal of the Lemkin 2018-2023 project, organised by the Pilecki Institute, is to promote the achievements of 20th-century Polish legal thought, with particular reference to Raphael Lemkin. Numerous conferences and exhibitions will be held under the project.

Click here to watch the full interview.