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Keywords:

  • Armenian Genocide;
  • Bosnian Genocide;
  • Cambodian Genocide;
  • definition;
  • definitionalism;
  • genocide;
  • genocide denial;
  • genocide law;
  • Herero Genocide;
  • Holocaust;
  • Raphael Lemkin;
  • Nanjing Massacre;
  • Native American Genocide(s);
  • rape;
  • Rwandan Genocide;
  • United Nations Genocide Convention;
  • Vietnam War

Abstract: The optimum definition of the term “genocide” has been hotly contested almost since the term was coined. Definitional boundaries determine which acts are covered and excluded and thus to a great extent which cases will benefit from international attention, intervention, prosecution, and reparation. The extensive legal, political, and scholarly discussions prior to this article have typically (1) assumed “genocide” to be a fixed social object and attempted to define it as precisely as possible or (2) assumed the need for a fixed convention and sought to stipulate the range of events that should be denoted by the term. Even if its meaning is a matter of convention, however, “genocide” is not a fixed object but varies by context and evolves in methods and forms over time. In fact, as relevant laws, legal interpretations, and political commitments develop, so do would-be perpetrators modify what genocide is in order to avoid political and legal consequences. This article advances an approach to a definition of “genocide” that allows even legal definitions to keep pace with this evolutionary process.