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190 Statement by Evatt

, [GENEVA], 25 August 1948

STATEMENT BY DR. EVATT ON GENOCIDE[1] Plenary Session 25 August, 1948
Genocide is a Crime
The Council has before it a draft convention declaring genocide to be a crime under international law. Genocide is a deliberate act committed with the intent of destroying a group to whom objection is taken for its national, racial, or religious origins or beliefs.

Genocide has occurred many times over the past few thousand years, but after the Great War many of us came to regard it as an uncivilized action which the world had grown out of. Unfortunately we have seen some of the greatest acts of mass destruction in the history of the world perpetrated by Hitler and Nazi Germany, and perpetrated upon grounds of racial or national origin. We must do all in our power to prevent these crimes being committed again and to deter and punish the perpetrators.

Need for action at the next Assembly
The first action taken by the United Nations in regard to genocide was a resolution adopted in December 1946 which affirmed that genocide was a crime under international law, and asked the Economic and Social Council to undertake the necessary studies with a view to drawing up a draft convention to be submitted to the 1947 session of the Assembly. A draft convention was prepared by the Secretariat and considered briefly by the Economic and Social Council. The General Assembly in November 1947 adopted a further resolution requesting the Economic and Social Council to continue its work, to study the draft convention prepared by the Secretariat, and to proceed with the conclusion of a convention.

At the last session this Council appointed a sub-committee which has examined the Secretariat's draft and prepared a new convention (E/AC.25/12). The Council this session has found itself unable, because of lack of time, to consider this convention in any detail.

I would strongly urge that the United Nations cannot allow the situation to drift on in this way any longer. It is two years since the Assembly first asked for a convention, and I feel that the Assembly, at its meeting in Paris next month, should take the draft prepared by the sub-committee, examine it in detail, and adopt a final convention which can be recommended to member nations for ratification.

Genocide is separate from the general question of human rights. The adoption of a convention on genocide should not necessarily be dependent upon the other work which the United Nations is doing in the field of human rights. The convention is far more specific than the draft Declaration on Human Rights; it contains provision for implementation of general principles. For example, it provides that the crime of genocide shall not be considered a political crime, and shall be a ground for extradition.

The work of the Nuremberg tribunal is also not sufficient to excuse us from adopting a convention. We desire a statement which is not merely the dictate of conquerors to a defeated people, but is an agreement freely entered into by sovereign peoples, and which declares genocide to be a crime even if committed in time of peace.

Convention need not be a final one
There are controversial clauses in the draft convention. Some countries have taken objection to the inclusion of political groups in the Convention. Others feel that it would be going too far to say that minorities should be allowed in all circumstances to use their own language in the schools, as this may prevent the assimilation of immigrants. There is some substance in all the objections that have been raised, but I would suggest that it is the function of the General Assembly to examine each of these points and to try to secure agreement on the drafting of the convention to cover them.

While it may not be possible at this stage to obtain agreement on all points, this should not prevent the United Nations from adopting a convention. The convention should cover everything on which general agreement has been reached and we can then go on at a later stage to draft a supplementary convention which will cover the points which have still been left open. This is analogous to the way in which, for example, the I.L.O. has worked, and this body has over the years established agreement over an increasingly wide area of industrial and labour problems.

I therefore appeal to the members of the United Nations to support at the General Assembly action to secure Assembly approval of a convention on genocide at the next session. In this way we shall be taking a notable step to carry out one of the Assembly's obligations under Article 13 (1) of the Charter: the encouragement of the progressive development of international law and its codification.[2]

[1] The statement was made at the seventh session of the Economic and Social Council held at Geneva from 19 July to 29 August 1948.

[2] The Council decided to transmit the draft convention to the General Assembly.

[AA : A1838, 855/6/5/3]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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