60th Anniversary of Genocide Convention

This December marks the 60th anniversary of the Convention to Prevent and Punish the Crime of Genocide. On December 9, 1948, the General Assembly of the UN at New York approved a resolution adopting the treaty. It is one of the most important documents in the creation of an international criminal jurisdiction by the UN immediately after WWII. On December 11, 1948, President Harry Truman signed the document on behalf of the US and sent it with a letter to the US Senate for ratification. Although a sufficient number of UN member states ratified the treaty on January 12, 1951, it was nearly 40 years later when it went into effect for the US.

The 100th Congress passed the Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987 (also known as the Proxmire Act), Public Law No. 100-60, codified at 18 USC 1091. That section defines genocide:

(a) Basic Offense. – Whoever, whether in time of peace or in time of war, in a circumstance described in subsection (d) and with the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group as such –

  1. kills members of that group;
  2. causes serious bodily injury to members of that group;
  3. causes the permanent impairment of the mental faculties of members of the group through drugs, torture, or similar techniques;
  4. subjects the group to conditions of life that are intended to cause the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part;
  5. imposes measures intended to prevent births within the group; or
  6. transfers by force children of the group to another group; or attempts to do so, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b)

(c) Incitement offense. – Whoever… directly and publicly incites another to violate subsection (a) shall be fined not more than $500,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

The 108th Congress reaffirmed its support of the Convention in House Report 108-130 explaining why the 1987 law was known as the Proxmire Act.

The Convention was submitted to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification in 1949. For many years, no action was taken on ratification in part because of unfounded fears that adherence to the treaty would undermine U.S. sovereignty. Senator William Proxmire was the leading proponent of ratification of the Convention. In reaction to the lack of movement by the Senate to give its advice and consent, Senator Proxmire vowed to speak every day on the need to ratify the Convention until the Senate took action. He made over 3,000 statements on the Senate floor urging ratification of the Convention. His commitment was so crucial to the ratification effort that the law is known as the “Proxmire Act”.

Consult SARA, the BLS Library catalog for further reading on the Genocide Convention where you will find The Genocide Convention: An International Law Analysis by John Quigley (Call # K5302 .Q85 2006).