top of page

An Uncomfortable Framing of The Most Heinous

Society has to wrestle back the meaning of genocide, restore its status and rescue it from triviality and commodification in the 'everyday'. The only way to do that, is to take ownership through the acknowledgement of a fundamental and very private aspect of genocide, which, is the terrifying idea that we are all capable of committing genocide.


“I made the effort, and it was possible for me, to shoot only children. It so happened that the mothers led the children by the hand. My neighbour then shot the mother and I shot the child that belonged to her because I reasoned with myself that after all without its mother the child could not live any longer. It was supposed to be, so to speak, soothing to my conscience to release children unable to live without their mothers”. A statement from a Thirty-five-year-old metalworker from Bremerhaven in 1942. (Browning, 1992)

"Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet." Japan Tobacco Inc.1960

Q. Why begin with a heart-wrenching statement from a German policeman in the Reserve Police Battalion 101, in 1942 and a strapline from a famous 1960s commercial about hamlet cigars?

A. The first quote represents the foundation of this text’s investigation of the potential to commit the crime of genocide is inherently human. The article explores the importance of recognising that we are all perhaps capable of genocide, which of course is an extremely unsavoury thought. However, until society takes ownership of this most heinous crime, the genocide convention will continue to struggle with establishing itself as an authentic tool with which to prevent and punish the crime of genocide. By avoiding this awkward but fundament aspect of genocide and engaging with the weighty moral and social implications that this suggests, we will render the convention fragile, blurred, and open for manipulation and interpretation.

The second quote represents this paper’s investigation of the risk that genocide is becoming commodified, a product to keep society passively satisfied and politically apathetic. (Pickford and Adorno, 2005) A condition that has evolved through an apparent lack of public ownership and personal resonance with the crime. Thus enabling the condition to develop it as a product of political convenience. The ownership of the term 'genocide' starts perhaps by acknowledging that genocide is not something others do, but rather, an act we are all capable of.

The text looks to explore the definition of genocide as specified by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG), before exploring the term’s origins and identifying important characters such as Raphael Lemkin and his involvement in getting the genocide convention passed in 1948, whilst acknowledging their 40 years struggle to gain ratification by the United States of America thereafter. A brief context building timeline will show benchmark dates and events before moving onto the main body of text.

The main body of the text explores the strengths and weaknesses of the convention regarding the early work of Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in particular her Pulitzer Prize-winning account of America’s foreign policy and its struggle with the Genocide Convention.

The text will then aim to establish the link between ‘normal everyday’ people and their roles in genocide, showing that these characters were professionals, family people, and productive members of society who became monsters. What are the conditions that lead to this drastic change of behaviour? Why do normal people become perpetrators of the most horrific of crimes? Whilst addressing this I hope to clarify the view that there are many levels of perpetration. In other words, many people attribute committing genocide to the functionality of the crime, by bullet or by machete but in reality, it can just as easily be committed by the pen or by the media.

Hannah Arendt in her account of the Eichmann trial in her book ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ will give insight into the normality of the criminals and Christopher Browning’s harrowing account titled ‘Ordinary Men’ will support the theory and highlights the conditions in which these deeds are carried out.

This paper will look at two integral case studies, Genocides of Rwanda 1994 and Indonesia 1965, which will give evidence to the theory, along with accounts from eyewitnesses recorded in the book, ‘Century of Genocide through critical essays and eyewitness accounts’ by Totten, Parsons and Charny will add to the argument.

Following on from the preliminary argument, the paper suggests the link between the fundamental importance of taking ownership of genocide and the repercussions if society doesn’t do this. One of those repercussions is that genocide loses its authenticity which impedes enforcement and status. This exploration will debate whether we are well on our way to a situation where genocide becomes a token symbol of justice or worst still a commodified process. In the last part of the research, I will discuss the theories of Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin and Chris Jenks, looking at symbolism and popular culture as the reason for people's passive satisfaction and lack of interest in overthrowing a capitalist system and the concept of authenticity.

This research seeks to encourage discourse concerning this abstract synergy of commodity and genocide and to ask the reader to take a moral position whilst challenging the political processes being procured on behalf of the genocide victims, past, present and in the future.

How to understand Genocide – To define genocide we need to first understand why we developed the term, where did it come from or more interestingly where did it come from?

In 1933 a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin proposed the International Conference for Unification of Criminal Law convened in Madrid. He requested the codification of what he called the connected crimes of “barbarity and vandalism” to prohibit the annihilation of racial, ethnic and religious groups. His proposal drew attention to the slaughter of Armenians during World War I and warned the conference of the rise of Hitler. By barbarity, Lemkin meant “the premeditated destruction of national, racial, religious and social collectives.” Vandalism meant “the destruction of works of art and culture, being the expression of the particular genesis of these collectives.” (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2015) The requested codification between barbarity and vandalism later became known as genocide. Lemkin used the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing) to come up with the new word, “genocide,” as a reaction in part to Winston Churchill’s speech explaining in December 1941, “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.”

The term was later used as a descriptive tool in the Nuremberg trials in 1945 but it was not until December 9th, 1948, that the final text was adopted. The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide entered into force on January 12th, 1951, after more than 20 countries from around the world ratified it. Recognizing that in all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity, and to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge, international cooperation is required. The convention entered into force on 12 January 1951 but it took years for many of the global power states to ratify it, another 40 years for example, for the USA to do so and then only with an 'à la carte' opt-out clause.

The only definition that has authority within international law is that of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG). In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

However, just beneath the official definition is a relatively lesser-defined hierarchy of involvement, in other words, the practical meaning of committing genocide; a definition which is important as we explore further with regards this essay. For many people, if asked what is genocide? The answers would be relatively similar and could be summarised as a horrific crime against humanity, mass murder or the mass extermination of a whole group of people, an attempt to destroy an entire group and wipe them out of existence. (BBC Wold 2010)

If asked, how or who commits the crime? that is when things become a little bit more complicated. Many people would posit an answer to the question, who committed genocide? - The German Nazis in World War II or the Hutu in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. And how? The answer might be, German concentration camps, gas chambers and firing squads or Hutu cleaver-wielding militia. What if we were to take an alternative perspective? What if we were to peek beneath the lid of convenient stereotyping and generalisations to see that the perpetrators of genocide, in particular, were often ordinary people, like you and I. Shopkeepers, School teachers, scholars, bus drivers, plumbers and farmers etc. People with families, houses, who went on holidays, who loved music and danced at parties just as we do. And what if we dug deeper as to their role in committing it. Many theorists feel that there are many ways to practically engage in genocide from the discussion makers that direct horror and carnage to the facilitators such as a bus driver who brought the victims from their homes to the killing fields, the media personalities that promoted and amplified the conditions, and the politicians and academics providing an infrastructure, all the way through to international states that stood-by without getting involved.

With this in mind, Genocide seems far more relatable and accessible. It becomes clearer and more uncomfortable in the knowledge that we have more in common with the perpetrators than we first dared to imagine.

The act of genocide is less straightforward in that it’s not only those who encourage the genocide, pull the trigger or hack with their machete but the others who facilitate these acts too. In this lesser defined participation in genocide, it is easier to imagine how someone who was so-called normal, might fit the genocide role of director, regional director, manager, assistant manager, administrator or labourer.

To understand genocide further it’s important to explore how the convention and its official definition have been received and what the impact has been since its validation in 1948. Since that historic moment of 1948, the concept of genocide has struggled. It struggled to gain ratification by leading global states and has not been the mechanism of criminal justice once hoped for. For example, there have been millions of deaths due to genocide and mass murder (262,000,000 according to 2015) with scarce charges being made and even fewer cases resulting in a conviction.

The UN treaty has come under fire from different sides, mostly by people frustrated with the difficulty of applying it to different cases. There are several recurrent criticisms of the treaty such as; targeted political and social groups not being included in the treaty, the definition is limited to direct acts against people and excludes acts against the environment which sustains them or their social distinctiveness and the difficulty of defining or measuring "in part", establishing how many deaths represent a genocide, and proving intention beyond a reasonable doubt is extremely difficult.

Numerous scholars have devised their own definitions of genocide in an attempt to make the term either more inclusive (e.g., including groups not covered under the UNCG, such as “political groups”) or more exclusive (e.g., limiting the focus to mass murder versus such harmful acts as causing “serious mental harm”). As a result of both the limitations of the UNCG’s definition and the many new definitions devised by scholars, there has been an ongoing debate over which definition, if any, is the “best.” (Totten, Bartrop and Jacobs, 2008).

The first case to put into practice the Convention on Genocide was on 2 September 1998. Jean Paul Akayesu, the Hutu mayor of the Rwandan town was found guilty of genocide. (Amann, 1999)

Some go further, Rebecca Tinsley an author, journalist and human rights activist, in an email explains her frustration with the definition of genocide

“The definition of genocide is an impediment to action. It allows the international community to view genocide as a historic event, to be seen in hindsight. Crucially the 2005 responsibility to protect Doctrine is entirely toothless because it remains unenforced. Nations play lip service to it, but no one will invoke it. Darfur was at its worst when the UN adopted the Responsibility to protect, yet no one thought they ought to do something about Darfur, and the UN resolutions remain unenforced”. (Rebecca Tinsley 2015)

To draw this chapter to a close and to strengthen the notion of a treaty in trouble it is worth noting the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, also known as the Permanent Five (P5) which includes the following five governments: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In the past the P5 have been seen as a key contributing factor to why the treaty has lost a lot of its authenticity and meaning. China, Russia and the United States have all had issue with the meaning of genocide in the past and were instrumental in keeping political and class categories out of the genocide definition. A lack of trust in the motivation and decision-making principles began to surface and critically as genocide unfolded in Rwanda, the P5 famously denied that genocide was even taking place in Rwanda, thus attempting to distance themselves from their legal obligation. This had a detrimental impact on the authority of the UN, and more specifically the UNSC, as it was evident that the P5 utilised their position in 1994 to steer international relations in a specific direction: away from genocide prevention.”(Adrian Gallagher 2013)

This chapter has provided a brief overview of the official definition of genocide, how it came about and who wrote it. The Genocide Convention is, without doubt, an extremely complex fabric of law, politics and interpretation. It is a treaty riddled with semantics and sadly inept at enforcing or preventing genocide. However, the blame cannot just be levelled at the Politicians and policy writers. We all have to take the blame for the flaccid nature of the treaty and how our governments react to the crime. The first step has to be, for society to take ownership and acknowledge that we are all potentially capable of genocide in one shape or another.

Genocide refers to the destruction of a group. However, if I am not a member of that group, why should I care about its destruction?” (Adrian Gallagher 2013)

Metaphor: The Genocide Gene – Why is this important to explore? To acknowledge this gene would give much-needed weight and authenticity to the subject. The Genocide Convention is weakening for many reasons whether it’s because of its poor history of intervention and enforcement, the lack of clarity in its definition or the perceived hypocrisy concerning a ‘one rule for one and another for everyone else’ mindset.

To create a more resilient convention from which to redevelop a sense of authenticity and to rescue the convention from further banality, ineptitude and political manipulation, society has to recognise that at its core lies the uncomfortable fact that genocide is in its many facets, a human condition, which can surface in extreme conditions.

To highlight the idea that all of us are capable of genocide many eyewitness accounts are explored. This text will show the ‘normal’ people who made up the Reserve Police Battalion 101 which later became one of the most brutal perpetrating units of the Holocaust. This section will also highlight Hannah Arendt’s book on the ‘Banality of Evil’ as she examines Adolf Eichmann who was perceived to be a central demonic figure of the Nazi regime.

In order to prevent genocide, we must first understand it” (Stanton 2003)

Before looking at the case studies it is useful to highlight two experiments that help provide an extra aspect of reality to the subject. These are the Stanley Milgram experiment in 1974 and the Zimbardo experiment 1973. Both experiments show how everyday people are capable of losing their moral inhibitions against committing cruel acts. There are a number of theories as to why this would happen, stating that when people have absolute power over others, they lose moral inhibitions against committing cruel acts, (as in the case of the Zimbardo experiment), or showing the power of a legitimate authority figure and the group obedience that develops, (as indicated in the Stanley Milgram experiment). (Marchak, 2003)

As shown, situations of absolute power or our obedience to a legitimate authority figure make us do unusual things. What if we add to the mix our conformity to group norms whilst distancing ourselves from, or dehumanizing, the opposition. An example of what could happen in these circumstances is illustrated by the account of Reserve Police Battalion 101 by Browning in his book ‘Ordinary Men’

Reserve Police Battalion 101 was made up of middle-aged working-class men too old for army duty. The majority of them held typical Hamburg working-class jobs, dockworkers and truck drivers were most numerous, but there were also many warehouse and construction workers, machine operators, seamen, and waiters.

In May 1940, after a period of training, the battalion was dispatched from Hamburg to the Warthegau, one of the four regions in western Poland annexed to the Third Reich as the incorporated territories. The battalion carried out “resettlement actions” for a period of five months. This was an action to populate them with “racially pure” Germans, all Poles and other so-called undesirables—Jews and Gypsies—were to be expelled from the incorporated territories into central Poland. However, the old, sick, or small children were not required and therefore shot. (Please refer to Appendix 3 for a personal account of the battalion’s role in these actions by a member of the unit). As the conflict grew, the battalion became more brutalised, more likely to punish their peers for not participating in the brutality indicating that conformity, not authority, was suggested as an explanation. At the height of the unit’s involvement, the company decorated its recreation room with a Star of David hung above the bar. A mark was made on the bar’s door for each Jew shot, and “victory celebrations” were reportedly held on days when high scores were recorded. (Browning, 1992)

Browning points out that these policemen did not act out of frenzy, bitterness and frustration but calculation. (Browning, 1992) They had not suffered wartime brutalization through previous combat situations but became increasingly brutalized after they began to kill. Browning suggests this development is due to a psychological phenomenon known as “distancing” by which “the other”. As the objectified enemy is dehumanized (Marchak, 2003)

Next are two eyewitness accounts. The first is from the massacres in Indonesia between October 1965 and March 1966 and the other is from the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In these accounts the perpetrators are known to the victims, indicating the local and personal conditions in which these atrocities can take place. At some time in the recent past these people were working, studying and socialising together. Normal people doing normal things. People like you and I.

By the Banks of the Brantas. During the six-month period from October 1965 to March 1966, approximately half a million people were killed in a series of massacres in Indonesia.

The first account was written in 1989 by a student and a member of a left-wing youth organization in Kedurus. The student (who wished to remain anonymous) hid by the banks of the river Brantas, fearful for his life. The river was congested with arms, legs and headless bodies but he was forced to fish there to survive. Whilst hiding, he heard a truck, he knew the truck’s owner Pak Abu, the owner of the textile mill. Out of the truck jumped someone he also knew, Pak Harun wore glasses, had a paunch, and always wore a black fez when he went out. He had a small moustache and dark skin. He was the number one man. The men from the truck began their horrific actions. (for the full account please refer to appendix 3)

“Another body was also thrown in, also headless. I couldn’t count how many headless corpses passed by me. Every time, the head was put in the gunny sack. Then I heard a shout from a voice I recognized and froze; it was Pak Mataim, our bicycle repairman who I think was illiterate. He seemed very thin, and he too was dragged along like a banana stalk”.(Totten, Parsons and Charny, 2004)

24 year old Tutsi, Venuste Hakizamungu.1994 As a young Tutsi man in Rwanda Africa, Venuste was ordered by the local militia to kill his brother Theoneste who was accused of being a Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) sympathiser. (For the full account please refer to appendix 4)

He himself brought the hoe and handed it to me. I hit him on the head. I kept hitting him on the head but he would not die. It was agonizing. Finally I took the machete he dreaded in order to finish him off quickly”. (Totten, Parsons and Charny, 2004)

Prior to this sad event Venuste and his family were helped by neighbours to escape to another village only to realise later that they were not being helped. There was pressure on the neighbours to kill Venuste and his family. The neighbours did not want to kill them themselves, so they sent them to be killed in another village.

Rather than viewing these tragic events through the lens of the victim try to see them through the lens of the perpetrator. It is not easy to do but if you can see the perpetrators as once normal people and try to understand the mechanisms that led to this moral conundrum. In both cases, the victims were dehumanised as cockroaches or communists. The perpetrators had absolute power over the others. There was a legitimate authority figure who reinforced the group’s obedience and ensured conformity to group norms. When adding to mechanisms, conditions such as fear, suspicion, and hatred through propaganda and the media it becomes easier to see how these events might have unfolded but crucially, it becomes harder to understand why no external body intervened. The removal of any or all of these cerebral links in the chain ending in genocide would have gone a long way to avoiding such suffering. In 1996 Gregory H. Stanton, President, of Genocide Watch wrote the 8 (recently updated to 10) stages of genocide. (Stanton, 2015) It is an important tool from which to police the conditions in the lead up to genocide. Sadly, since 1996 there have been the Darfur genocide 2004 and the genocide of the Iraq Kurds. Until society acknowledges it’s a human problem that applies to all of us, the mechanisms to combat this crime will be fundamentally disadvantaged.

This chapter closes with a brief encounter with Adolf Eichmann, a demonic figure of the Nazi regime. He systematically applied the logistics of commerce to the annihilation of Jews during the Holocaust. Kidnapped by Israeli agents in Argentina on May 24, 1960, and brought back to Israel, where Eichmann faced trial. It was at this trial, that political theorist Hannah Arendt encountered Eichmann which inspired her book ‘Banality of Evil’ published in 1963. Rather than being confronted by a monster, Arendt is struck by the normality of the man. She described him as

“nicht einmal unhemlich” “not even sinister,” not inhuman or beyond comprehension (Arendt, 1963)

“No fewer than six psychologists came to examine Eichmann. These psychologists found not only no trace of mental illness, but also no evidence of abnormal personality whatsoever. One doctor remarked that his overall attitude towards other people, especially his family and friends, was "highly desirable", while another remarked that the only unusual trait Eichmann displayed was being more "normal" in his habits and speech than the average person”.(Arendt, 1965)

Devalued and prone to Misdirection

Finally, the text highlights the link between the fundamental importance of taking ownership of genocide and the potential consequences if society doesn’t. One of those consequences is that genocide becomes devalued and loses its authenticity which impedes law enforcement and status. In some aspects, genocide is well on its way to a situation where it has become a token gesture of justice, a political weapon or worst still, a commodified process used to keep the public passively satisfied and politically apathetic.

Former secretary-general of Medecins Sans Frontieres, Alain Destexhe believes the word genocide has fallen victim to "a sort of verbal inflation, in much the same way as happened with the word fascist". Because of that, he says, the term has progressively lost its initial meaning and is becoming "dangerously commonplace".(BBC News, 2010)

Genocide has become more commonplace. It is no longer the whispered brutal crime of the holocaust or the terrifying imagery of the Rwandan massacre. It has become adopted by the culture industry and is used to sell films, music and the arts. It has become part of branded digital gaming software such as Grand Theft Autos' new episode “Genocide Crusades”. It has become a subject in questionable stand-up comedic routines and a figure of Japanese youth entertainment, in its depiction of Genocide Gill.

It could be argued that genocide has become commonplace as a direct result of our so-called civilised society’s avoidance of the subject and its lack of ambition to acknowledge that genocide is inherently human in nature. A theory that resonates with genocide’s increasing rhetoric and polysemy. This ‘common place’ positioning of genocide may have created significant challenges concerning a cultural relationship with the term genocide and any future peacebuilding. One such challenge is to avoid compassion fatigue, which often results when you see the same problem or term repeatedly used when they are chronic, and when the outcomes are not positive. We’ve all heard the old saw that “one death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic.” (Gladstone, 2012)

The term genocide is also horribly misused by hyperbolic politicians (like Ben Carson calling abortion like slavery, in the current Republican primary circus). These terms lose all meaning when they are applied so casually. Perhaps it is a deliberate devaluing of the term genocide to make us numb to its true awful meaning, and thus less likely to demand our leaders do something to stop genocide. I'm also reminded of something T S Elliott said about how humankind cannot bear too much reality” (Rebecca Tinsley 2015)

Driven by this social avoidance and apathy, our capitalist societies have taken ownership of genocide in a more typical fashion. Humanity has allowed the politicians and social elite the scope to commoditise genocide, creating the genocide package and peddling it back to society as a product of justice and genocide management. A product that reassures the majority that something has been and is being done, a product reflecting due diligence and the appropriate analysis of these horrific crimes have been conducted and appropriate labelling has been provided. A product that allows us to carry on our way of life, comforted that someone somewhere has these matters at hand. A mainstream societal placebo, as critical theorists might suggest.

Anyone who underwent a liberal-arts education in recent decades probably encountered the thorny theorists, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin and Horkheimer, theorists associated with the Institute for Social Research, better known as the Frankfurt School. The school of social theory and philosophy is associated in part with the Institute for Social Research at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany and was founded in 1923.(Ross, Kirsch and Menand, 2014)

Critical theory and the critique of ideology are in the main opposition to traditional theory, which refers to theory in the positivistic, scientistic, or only observational mode – that is, which derives simplifications or "laws" about different aspects of the world.

Their cautionary titles, filled with dark talk of “Negative Dialectics” and “One-Dimensional Man,” were complicated reading, poetic at times but distant memories of the 60s and 70s. However, with the fall of the Soviet Union, free-market capitalism triumphing, and in light of recent events, it may be time to unpack those dusty texts again. Economic and environmental crisis, Genocide, terrorism and counterterrorism, deepening inequality, unchecked tech and media monopolies, a withering away of intellectual institutions, and an ostensibly liberating internet culture in which we are constantly checking to see if we are being watched. None of this would have surprised the theorists from the Frankfurt School. Their emphasis on the "critical" component of theory was derived significantly from their attempt to overcome the limits of positivism, materialism, and determinism by returning to Kant's critical philosophy and its successors in German idealism, principally Hegel's philosophy, with its emphasis on dialectic and contradiction as inherent properties of human reality. The critique of modernity and the developments and institutions associated with modern society is required more than ever. Their dialectic of doubt prods us to pursue connections between what troubles us and what distracts us, to see the riven world behind the seamless screen. “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism” Benjamin (Ross, Kirsch and Menand, 2014)

This chapter has suggested that genocide is at risk of losing its meaning and becoming dangerously commonplace. A situation which has resulted from its growing ambiguity and inept attempts at criminal investigation, law enforcement and prevention, leading to a loss of authority and authenticity. This chapter has been about recognising genocide’s loss of meaning, showing examples of it becoming commonplace, in other words, part of the cultural mainstream industry and therefore an ascetically a product. The critical theorists use the term, ‘culture industry’ to describe the commodification of cultural forms that is a consequence of the growth of monopoly capitalism and democracy. The ‘cultural industry’, theorists argue, plays a central role in cementing its audience to the status quo, and has transformed culture itself into an ideological medium of domination. Genocide, therefore, has become a mainstream societal placebo, a tool with which to pacify and reassure society that things are being done, a labelling process that has branded this crime of atrocity as genocide.


This research sought to develop an engaging proposition which suggested genocide is a human condition, a crime that we were all capable of committing given the right set of circumstances. This text explored the theory that genocide is committed by, once ‘normal’ people like you and me. And suggests that the lack of a worldwide acknowledgement of this confrontational and uncomfortable truth does have its consequences. An avoidance that creates problems with regards to societies’ ownership of genocide and its long term future as a treaty. One of the issues related to genocide’s continuing loss of meaning is an increasing vulnerability to re-appropriation and political manipulation. A primary example of manipulation is the recent apparent commodification of genocide. In other words, genocide seems to have become a commodity of sorts, a cultural form that has naively evolved into a situation where it can be seen as a branded package of information, a product of democracy used as a political tool, which has resulted in its standardisation and rationalisation, which in turn has weakened, emaciated and damaged an individual’s capacity to reflect on genocide critically and autonomously.

To explore this proposal further we first set the scene and presented the core details about genocide. Explained who Raphael Lemkin was and how he began the process to establish genocide started with his request to codify what he called the connected crimes of “barbarity and vandalism”. This essay explored genocide’s definition and highlighted its weaknesses, explaining how the definition of genocide is coming under increasing scepticism. The Genocide Convention received a variety of complaints such as the convention’s exclusion of targeted political and social groups, providing intention beyond a reasonable doubt is extremely difficult, the convention’s difficulty in defining or measuring "in part", and establishing how many deaths equal genocide and the definition is limited to direct acts against people, and excludes acts against the environment which sustains them or their cultural distinctiveness. (BBC News, 2010)

This has all stemmed from a simple flaw in genocide’s DNA, a flaw that renders it potentially hollow and vulnerable to misinterpretation, political manipulation and abuse. To continue Lemkin’s legacy, society has to regain control of the term genocide and establish the convention’s authenticity by establishing its foundations and reiterating the seriousness of its horrific nature, its global impact and its history. Lemkin’s interpretation of genocide was based on his reaction to the Armenian genocide and the holocaust in World War II.

Recognising the act of Genocide and its meaning has to evolve from there. It needs to regain the trust and work on a transparent and ethical mechanism to counter the current challenges and prepare itself for the future. Society has to wrestle back the meaning of genocide and restore its status and rescue it from triviality and commodification in the cultural industry. The only way to do that is to take ownership through acknowledgement of a fundamental and very private aspect of genocide, which is the terrifying idea that we are all capable of committing genocide.



Adorno, T., Pickford, H. and Adorno, T. (2005). Critical models. New York: Columbia University Press.

Amann, D. (1999). Prosecutor v. Akayesu. Case ICTR-96-4-T. The American Journal of International Law, 93(1), p.195.

Arendt, H. (1965). Eichmann in Jerusalem. New York: Viking Press, pp.25-26.

Arendt, H. (2006). Eichmann in Jerusalem. New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books.

BBC News, (2010). Analysis: Defining genocide - BBC News. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Nov. 2015].

Browning, C. (1992). Ordinary men. New York: HarperCollins.

Gallagher, A. (2013). Genocide and its threat to contemporary international order. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. p.12

Gladstone, B. (2012). Combating & quot; Compassion Fatigue & quot; and Other Reporting Challenges. [online] Impatient Optimists. Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2015]., (2015). Indonesia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Nov. 2015]., (2015). Statistics of Democide. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Nov. 2015].

Holden, A. (2003). Observer review: A Problem from Hell by Samantha Power. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 2 Nov. 2015]., (2015). Situations and cases. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Nov. 2015].

Marchak, M. (2003). Reigns of terror. Montreal [Que.]: McGill-Queen's University Press. P.111-113

Power, S. (2003). A problem from hell. London: Flamingo.

Ross, A., Kirsch, A. and Menand, L. (2014). Pop Culture and Power - The New Yorker. [online] The New Yorker. Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2015].

Stanton, G. (2015). [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Nov. 2015].

Tinsley, R. (2015). Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2015].

Totten, S., Bartrop, P. and Jacobs, S. (2008). Dictionary of genocide. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Totten, S., Parsons, W. and Charny, I. (2004). Century of genocide. New York: Routledge. Page. 247-249, 410-411

Verbitsky, H. (1996). The flight. New York: New Press.

Zidouh, A. (2015). Quotes About Critical Theory (20 quotes). [online] Available at: http://www.goodreads


bottom of page