SUBHRADEEP CHOWDHURY : In 1946, in the wake of the Holocaust, as one of its first acts, the United Nations condemned the crime of genocide, calling it “a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups” that “shocks the conscience of mankind, results in great losses to humanity… and is contrary to moral law and to the spirit and aims of the United Nations.”

Genocide is also “a profound and whole-scale violation of human rights.”The definition of genocide provided by the UN convention of 1948 is as follows, “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Based on this definition of genocide and for the purposes of this paper I will qualify the use of Indian residential schools as equaling genocide. The aspect of the UN definition that supports my qualification is “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” In 1891, the U.S Commissioner of Indian Affairs was authorized by Congress to make and enforce…such rules and regulations as will ensure the attendance of Indian children of suitable age and health at schools established and maintained for their benefit. This act was then followed in 1893 by legislators who began to withhold rations, clothing and other annuities from Indian parents or guardians who refuse or neglect to send and keep their children of proper school age in residential schools.  This is clear evidence of the existence of indigenous communities forcibly having to give up their children. The Indian residential schools that were in effect in the United States and Canada from the period of 1870 until 1972 qualify as genocide.


On the tenth anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed the need to develop more effective strategies for preventing genocide, and he called on the world to “recognize the signs of approaching or possible genocide, so that we can act in time to avert it.” He pointed to the United Nations human rights system as having a special responsibility to play in sounding the alarm about the risk of genocide. A decade later, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agreed that “human rights violations must be seen as early warning signals of conflict and mass atrocities,” and stressed the need for swift action to be taken to protect people whenever such risks are detected.

Given that no country is perfectly homogeneous, genocide is a truly global challenge. In 2004, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Juan Mendez as Special Adviser to fill critical gaps in the international system that allowed those tragedies to go unchecked. In 2007, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Francis M. Deng on a full-time basis at the level of Under-Secretary-General. He also appointed Edward Luck as the Special Adviser who focuses on the responsibility to protect, on a part-time basis at the level of Assistant Secretary-General. The Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) works to strengthen the role of the United Nations in preventing genocide by:

Raising awareness: Assists regional organizations and governments to institute genocide prevention mechanisms, organizes high-level UN conferences on genocide prevention

Alerting: maintains a database of information on possible precursors to genocide; Provides timely advice to the Secretary-General and, as appropriate, the Security Council, on situations of concern, through advisory notes and briefings.

Advocating: Making recommendations to the Secretary-General on actions to prevent or halt genocide.

UN agencies contribute to the prevention of genocide by, inter alia, supporting equitable economic development and the fair distribution of political power; promoting tolerance and respect for ethnic, religious and cultural diversity, and the protection of human rights; providing humanitarian assistance; and interceding to ensure peace, security and stability. The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and the Special Adviser who focuses on the responsibility to protect work closely within the UN system to promote a culture of prevention.


Where genocide does occur, the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is separate from and independent of the United Nations, is empowered to investigate and prosecute those most responsible, if a State is unwilling or unable to exercise jurisdiction over alleged perpetrators. Fighting impunity and establishing a credible expectation that the perpetrators of genocide and related crimes will be held accountable can contribute effectively to a culture of prevention.

OSAPG largely depends on the United Nations system, Member States and civil society for information.

We can be of crucial assistance to the mandate by: Encouraging relevant partners to provide information to OSAPG; Encouraging use of the Analysis Framework; Working with OSAPG to raise awareness in all parts of the world of the causes of genocide and mass atrocities, and means of preventing these crimes.


  1. Official booklet of OSAPG,UN
  2. Manual on Human Rights and the Prevention of Genocide Foreword by Adama Dieng, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide


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