What exactly is genocide? The word was invented by Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish lawyer who fled Poland at the start of World War Two and came to the United States. He lost almost every member of his family to the Holocaust carried out by Nazi Germany.
|Sudanese women in a refugee camp in Chad in July 2004 protesting the violence in Darfur|
In a nineteen forty-four book, Raphael Lemkin wrote that by "genocide" he meant the destruction of a nation or an ethnic group. But not necessarily the immediate destruction. It can also describe a plan of actions taken against groups with the aim, in the end, to destroy the groups themselves.
His efforts led in nineteen forty-eight to a United Nations treaty against the crime of genocide. It took effect in nineteen fifty-one. It defines genocide as actions taken with the goal to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.
The acts listed include killing or causing serious physical or mental harm. Creating conditions that are designed to cause the destruction of a group is also considered genocide. This includes taking measures to prevent births or forcibly removing the children of one group to another group.
So far, the Web site preventgenocide.org says one hundred thirty-seven countries have accepted the treaty. All countries that approve it are required to prevent and punish acts of genocide.
As the example of Darfur shows, there can be international disagreement about what represents genocide.
Four years ago, ethnic Africans rebelled in Darfur, in western Sudan. They said their needs were not getting attention from the government in Khartoum.
Since then, more than two million people have fled their homes to escape government forces and allied Arab militias. The United Nations estimates that at least two hundred thousand people have been killed, a charge that Sudan disputes.
In two thousand four, the United States Congress declared the violence to be genocide. But the United Nations does not use that term for the conflict.
This week, President Bush ordered more restrictions on Sudan. The new sanctions will bar dealings by Americans with about thirty companies tied to the government. He also called for stronger international pressure on Sudan to end the violence.
Sudan condemned the new sanctions. And China urged restraint. It said there has been recent progress thanks to the joint efforts of all parties. Sudan has agreed to a proposal for a large United Nations presence in Darfur. But critics say the government has been delaying the peacekeeping plan.
Critics accuse China of protecting Sudan from U.N. sanctions. China buys oil from Sudan. It also has other investments there and sells weapons to the government.
China has deplored calls by some activists to boycott the Olympics next summer as a protest over Darfur. Some activists call the Beijing Games the "Genocide Games."
And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.