Raphael Lempkin coined the term ‘genocide’ in 1944 and some of his ideas on genocide were adopted in the United Nations Genocide Convention in 1948. The UN definition of genocide is very important because it is the internationally accepted definition. It defines genocide as; acts which are committed with the intent to destroy the whole, or part of a national, ethical, racial or religious group through killings, serious bodily and mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions onto the group intended to bring about its destruction completely or partly, imposing measures to prevent births and forcibly removing children from the group and replacing them into another group. Lempkin listed the fields in which genocide was being carried out as; political, social, cultural, economic, biological, physical, religious and moral, despite the UN only adopting the physical definitions. The UN legal definition is going to be the basis of the essay, and what I will base my conclusions regarding the gypsies around, that does not mean however that the definition is an accurate one.
Kuper (1981) talks about the widespread devastation caused by the Nazi’s, providing the force for the formal recognition of genocide as a crime under international law, despite genocidal events having been reprimanded by governments previously, including the French intervention with religious attacks taking place in Lebanon in 1861 and the governments of France, the U.K. and Russia denouncing the Armenian massacres, to name just a couple of examples. However, it was the Nazi’s and more specifically the Jewish holocaust that provoked the convention. Genocide became a new word to denote an old practice (ibid). The convention allows for one state to intervene regarding the genocidal actions carried out by the power of another state. However, for one state to accuse another delegitimizes the power of the state (Fein 1990:12), and this is why interventions regarding genocide usually come too late.
Political and class groups were exempt from the definition of genocide, causing wide debate and demonstrating just one of the many flaws in attempting to legally define an act as horrific as mass killing. The Russians argued that the inclusion of political groups was not in conformity with the definitions of genocide, avoiding persecutions by the UN despite killing millions of civilians due to class registration and political reasoning (Kuper 1981:39). Omitting the millions of political and class ‘opponents’ killed during Stalin’s reign makes it difficult for one to argue that much smaller, but still devastating mass killings of groups such as the gypsies can account for genocide on the basis of scale. There are ample examples of mass killings, which do not legally classify as genocide, such as the Khmer Rouge killings and the killings of the Iraqi Kurds. If these are not legally considered to be genocide, than arguing that the gypsy persecution during the Second World War does count, becomes very difficult.
During the pre-war years, harassment was rife and had been to some extent since the arrival of the gypsies in Europe in the 11th Century. Prejudice and racist ideologies were in place before the outbreak of war, with regulations enforced to prevent the ‘gypsy lifestyle’, including immobilisation and the introduction of gypsy camps (Lewy 2000:15). They were accused of being a primitive race and a burden on welfare and the general population, their dark complexion making them an easy target, ‘The Roma and Sinti minority were viewed by the police as a homogenous group of non-Caucasian vagabonds, asocials and criminals’ (Milton 2001:213). In 1935 the government began to collect comprehensive registration details providing eugenic information on all gypsies, which later became useful in their deportations.
In 1939 the Nazi’s began to use their newly seized territories as dumping grounds for their undesired people. The gypsies were immobilised and were under...
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