Re-Examining the Scope of the Crime of Genocide: Understanding the Meaning of the 'Genus' in the Crime of Crimes

AutorViviana Méndez y Lucía Soley
CargoCosta Rican lawyer and an LL.M. Graduate from Harvard Law School - Costa Rican law student
VIII Edición, I semestre 2018
Re-Examining the Scope of the Crime of
Genocide: Understanding the Meaning of the
” in the Crime of Crimes
Viviana Méndez*
Lucía Soley**
Las secuelas de la segunda guerra mundial impulsaron la creación del derecho internacional penal moderno
mediante la enunciación de los principios de Núremberg, los cambios paradigmáticos en la concepción de la jurisdicción inter-
nacional y el reconocimiento y tipificación del crimen del genocidio en la Convención del Genocidio de 1948. En cuanto al
genocidio, la tipificación del crimen fue inevitablemente influenciada por el contexto histórico en el cual el crimen se manifestó.
Por consiguiente, mientras que, etimológicamente, el término genocidio implica la destrucción de cualquier comunidad humana,
quienes tipificaron el crimen delimitaron su ámbito de aplicación protegiendo de su perpetración lo a ciertos grupos humanos
afectadas durante la guerra (grupos étnicos, raciales, religiosos o nacionales). La decisión de excluir otros grupos del ámbito de
aplicación del crimen ha dado pie a debates importantes con respecto a si la protección de grupos humanos del crimen del
genocidio debería construirse de manera restrictiva o ser ampliada mediante interpretación. Este trabajo explora ambas pos-
turas e invita a reflexionar sobre cómo las leyes del genocidio deberían evolucionar.
Palabras clave:
Genocidio tipificación grupos protegidos - ámbito de aplicación Convención del Genocidio
The aftermath of the Second World War marked the genesis of modern International Criminal Law; notably,
through the enunciation of the Nuremberg principles, the paradigm shifts in the conception of international jurisdiction, and
the recognition and punishment of genocide in the 1948 Genocide Convention. As to genocide, the process of punishing this
crime was, from the outset, inextricably linked to the historical context in which it was developed. In this regard, while
etymologically genocide means destroying any human group, the drafters of the Convention fleshed out the scope of the crime
largely from the War experience, thus choosing to only protect certain groups who had an ethnical, racial, religious, or national
backdrop. The decision to eschew other groups has left many wanting since the Convention was first written. It has further
sparked debates as to whether the groups protected from genocide should be narrowly construed or broadened by interpretation.
This piece explores both positions regarding the protected groups, and invites readers to reflect on how genocide law should move
Key words:
Genocide genus protected groups scope of application Genocide Convention
* Viviana Méndez is a Costa Rican lawyer and an LL.M. Graduate from Harvard Law School. Contact information: vmendez-
** Lucía Soley is a Costa Rican law student. She recently completed an internship at the International Criminal Court, and will
now intern at the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Contact information:
The opinions expressed in the article are their own.
Fecha de postulación del artículo: 17 de febrero de 2018. Fecha de aprobación del artículo: 23 de junio de 2018
VIII Edición, I semestre 2018
In May 2017, three activist groups lodged a com-
plaint before the International Criminal Court
(“ICC”) accusing the Chechen President Ramzan
Kadyrov and state officials of the Russian Republic
of Chechnya (“Chechnya”) of committing the
crime of “genocide”
against homosexual people.
The complaint comes after a Russian independent
newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, international news
outlets, and important politicians have denounced
the existence of an effort by the Chechen Govern-
ment to destroy the gay population
by establishing
gay concentration camps or anti-gay pogroms
which homosexual men are “systematically ab-
ducted by security services and held in”.
Samuel Osborne, Chechnya accused of “genocide” against
gay people in complaint to International Criminal Court, The
Independent, 17 May 2017, available at: http://www.inde-
sia-region-a7740271.html; Josh Lowe, French LGBT Groups
take Chechnya to Court over “gay Genocide”, Newsweek,
16th June 2017, available at:
cide-icc-court-case-610056. See also Kevin Ponniah, Che-
chen gay men hopeful of finding refuge in five countries, BBC
News, 19 May 2017, available at:
Lizzie Dearden, Russia backs Chechnya Government’s de-
nials over killings of gay men, The Independent, 20th April
2017, available at: http://www.independ-
ing-torture-vladimir -putin-dmitry-peskov-chechen-leader-
Andrew E. Kramer, They Starve You. They Shock You: In-
side the Anti-Gay Pogrom in Chechnya, The New York
Times, 21st April 2017, available at: https://www.ny-
authorities have rejected these accusations, arguing
that no gay men exist in Chechnya.
While accusations of gay genocide have surfaced
before in the press,
whether they can meet the le-
gal definition of genocide remains unsettled. The
term genocide was coined by Polish Professor
Raphael Lemkin in the early twentieth century
from a mixture of the Greek “genos”, meaning race
or tribe, and the termination “cide”, from the Latin
caedere”, meaning to kill.
It gained widespread
recognition when it appeared in the indictment of
Amy Mackinnon, America, don’t abandon gay Chechens, 4
June 2017, CNN, available at:
Andrew E. Kramer, They Starve You. They Shock You: In-
side the Anti-Gay Pogrom in Chechnya, The New York
Times, 21st April 2017, available at: https://www.ny-
See, e.g., the case of Uganda, where in 2009, Uganda’s Gov-
ernment attempted to enact death penalty laws to be imple-
mented against criminals found guilty of “aggravated homo-
sexuality”, namely sexual acts undertaken between people of
the same sex in conditions that include, amongst others, that
one of the persons be under age, or that one of the persons be
disabled. The attempts to signal the Bill garnered general op-
probrium at the time, and were labeled as a form of genocide.
FOR REDRESS, Lawbook Exchange, 1944, p. 79. See also UN
Doc. A/ 96(I) (1946), 11 December 1946 defining genocide
as: “a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups.”
See also International Court of Justice, Reservations to the
Genocide Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of
the Crime of Genocide, Advisory Opinion, 28th May 1951, p.

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