What is Genocide

Professor Daniel Feierstein speaking on the social practices and processes of a genocide as Dr Helen Jarvis, former chief of Public Affairs at the Cambodia Tribunal listens on, the London Conference on Myanmar's Genocide of Rohingya, 28 Apr 2014

What is Genocide 

Daniel Feierstein 

The term genocide was coined by the Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin, who wrote that “By genocide we mean the destruction of a nation or … ethnic group”. Lemkin went on to argue that “Genocide has two phases: one, the destruction of the national identity of the oppressed group, the other, the imposition of the national identity of the oppressor.” 

The distinctive feature of genocide, according to Lemkin, is that it aims to destroy a group rather than the individuals that make up the group. The ultimate purpose of genocide is to destroy the group’s identity and impose the identity of the oppressor on the survivors. This idea gives us a useful insight into the workings of power systems in the modern era. In particular, the nation state has tended to destroy the identities of ethnic and religious minorities within its boundaries and impose a new identity on them: the national identity of the oppressor.


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