Volume Supplement Issue 2023, January 2023, pp. 1-14

Genocide Studies International (GSI) is owned, operated, and managed by the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (a division of the Zoryan Institute). The journal is published twice a year by the University of Toronto Press.

Zoryan Institute, a nonprofit organization, serves the cause of scholarship and public awareness relating to issues of universal human rights, genocide, and diaspora-homeland relations. This is done through the systematic continued efforts of scholars and specialists using a comparative and multidisciplinary approach and in accordance with the highest academic standards.

The Genocide Studies International Educational Supplement Series

This is part of a series of resources created for teachers that are designed to assist educators in using scholarly resources, such as journal articles, in their classrooms. These resources rely on and supplement the peer-reviewed journal Genocide Studies International. One of our goals is to ensure that we help narrow the gap between academic, scholarly knowledge and knowledge that is easily shared with a broad audience, including high school students. The Education Supplement Series is one of our attempts to do just that.

We would love to hear from you about this initiative so that we can continue to produce and develop what works well and improve what doesn't. If you would like to share your thoughts, please email

About This Issue

This Education Supplement has been created in honor of Genocide Awareness Month, which takes place in April each year. It begins with a brief history of the term “genocide” and an explanation of Genocide Awareness Month.

The heart of this supplement consists of three Genocide Studies International articles. Each has been selected because of its important content and the critical conversation it will provoke. In addition, each piece employs a different style of writing commonly seen in academic articles.

Article Argument Style
Genocide and Atrocity Crimes, by David Scheffer The international community should use the term “atrocity crime” to think about, talk about, and act upon instances of mass violence Theoretical article
The Issue of Intent in the Genocide Convention and Its Effect on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: Toward a Knowledge-Based Approach, by Katherine Goldsmith The international community has put too much emphasis on the word “intent,” making genocide more difficult to prevent and to punish They Say/I Say
A System, Society, and Community Perspective on Genocide, by Adrian Gallagher Policy makers are unable to prevent genocide because they operate under very different worldviews Conceptual article

The articles used for this supplement can be found on the University of Toronto Journals website:




Before You Get Started …

This supplement is designed to be flexible and adaptable in order to fit the needs of your classroom. The following are some things to consider before getting started.

Student Learning Needs

The extended summaries of the journal articles included here can stand on their own. If the journal articles themselves are not accessible for your class, this supplement is designed to be flexible in accommodating student needs.


If you only have one class period, consider picking one article that will resonate with your students to read and discuss on its own. Alternately, students might be divided into groups, with each group focusing on a different article. The groups can then share brief overviews of what they read and why it's important.

If you have multiple class periods, articles can be read and discussed by the whole group across the span of two, three, or even five days.

Teaching Style and Goals
  • For a Writing Intensive class: Consider using one or more of the “After Reading” questions as writing prompts.

  • For an English class: After discussing the content, consider the style and tone of each article and the effectiveness of each.

  • For a History class: Ask students to evaluate the ways in which these articles have extended or challenged existing knowledge about genocide.

  • For a Political Science class: Consider using the articles here as a springboard for discussions about the strengths and limits of international relations.

A Brief History of the Word “Genocide”

The term “genocide” was coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer who wanted to describe Nazi policies of systematic murder during the Holocaust. Unable to find an appropriate word, Lemkin created a new one; he combined the Greek word génos (“geno-”), meaning race or tribe, with the Latin word caedere (“-cide”), meaning killing. He believed that the international community needed a specific term to describe this type of crime in order to effectively prevent and punish it.

After years of lobbying from Lemkin, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention) in 1948, which established genocide as an international crime. The definition of genocide laid out in the Genocide Convention includes

Any of the following actions committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group … :

  • 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;

  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The Genocide Convention also established the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute individuals accused of committing genocide and other crimes against humanity. The ICC has the authority to indict and try individuals for genocide and other crimes, even if they are committed by a head of state or other high-ranking official.

What Is Genocide Awareness Month?

Genocide Awareness Month is an important opportunity to remember the victims of past genocides, to acknowledge the wrongs done to those targeted, to honor their memories, and to re-affirm the commitment to preventing future genocides. It is also a time to reflect on the causes of genocide and to consider what can be done to address these root causes in order to prevent future atrocities.

Genocide Awareness Month is observed in April to honor the following grim anniversaries:

Beginning on April 24, 1915, over one million Armenians living under Ottoman Empire rule were killed during mass deportations and massacres. Armenian property and cultural institutions were pillaged, while thousands of women were abducted and forced into religious conversion.

On April 19, 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began. This rebellion by Jews interned in the Warsaw Ghetto was the largest—and the most well-known—act of armed resistance during the Holocaust.

On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia, where it murdered those deemed “enemies of the people.” An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians were murdered in the killing fields.

On April 7, the international community commemorates the start of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Over the course of a 100-day period, approximately one million Rwandans were murdered.

April 6 marks the anniversary of the start of the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. Many atrocities were perpetrated throughout the Bosnian War, including ethnic cleansing campaigns, systematic mass rape, and the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica.

During Genocide Awareness Month, events are held to educate the public about the history and consequences of genocide and to encourage individuals and organizations to take action to prevent future genocides. These events include lectures, film screenings, exhibitions, and other educational activities.

Genocide and Atrocity Crimes

This article, written by David Scheffer and published in Genocide Studies and Prevention in 2006, argues that the international community should use the term “atrocity crime” to think about, talk about, and act upon instances of mass violence.

Ambassador Scheffer served as the first United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the 1990s. In this role, he participated in the creation of multiple war crimes tribunals. In this article, he weaves together his academic knowledge and practical experience.

A Note about Structure

This is a theoretical article. Theoretical articles do not contain information about a study or experiment the author completed; instead, the author examines existing ideas to analyze how the theory applies (or doesn't apply) in certain situations.

Before Reading

Before you read the article, read the summary below. This will give you a preview of some of the big ideas you will encounter as you read. Remember, this is only a summary, and some details are left out.

The Problem

This article presents the reader with a problem: since the Genocide Convention was ratified in 1948, millions of people have been murdered in acts of genocide. There are several reasons for this:

  • In order for the international community to intervene, instances of mass violence must be investigated and legally found to be genocide.

  • Governments hesitate to label mass violence as genocide because they become legally obligated to intervene.

  • The term “genocide” is understood differently in legal, political, and popular contexts.

Scheffer offers a series of steps that, he argues, will move us toward genocide prevention. Each step—explained below—aims to elevate the term “atrocity crime” to describe a range of international mass violence crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Step One: Defining the Precursors to Genocide

It is critical for governments to intervene when genocide is emerging. In order for this to happen, there needs to be an understanding of—and focus on—the precursors to genocide, the recognizable red flags or warning signs that a country is on a dangerous path that could result in genocidal violence. If these early signs can be quickly and publicly described, Scheffer argues that they would “alert the world to the need to react in a timely manner to prevent further destruction of innocent human life.” The goal of identifying the precursors to genocide and bringing them to the public's attention is to raise awareness and put pressure on those in a position to intervene before it is too late.

Ultimately, “what becomes important is the action being taken to prevent genocide rather than the search for the crime of genocide.” Scheffer argues that it makes no sense for a government to have to wait until the crime of genocide is formally established to prevent it. In other words, the prosecution of perpetrators of genocide is important, but prevention—saving lives—ought to matter more.

Worth noting is one common concern about genocide prevention, which is the mistaken notion that it always involves military action, risking the lives of soldiers in distant countries. In reality, there are a range of tools that might be used, including diplomatic and judicial initiatives, and economic sanctions; only in some instances does military intervention need to be an option.

Step Two: Defining Atrocity Crimes

Scheffer argues that precursors to genocide, while a good first step, are not enough; the international community needs to adopt a different, more flexible term: atrocity crimes. Because genocide requires an international response, governments often delay their response by conducting prolonged investigation to label violence as genocide. Declaring an event as an atrocity crime, however, would ensure a swift response to stop mass violence. Since 1993, international criminal tribunals have, in fact, focused on atrocity crimes. This term serves as a “basket for particularly heinous crimes,” including genocide, crimes against humanity (including ethnic cleansing), and war crimes, and can be easily and accurately understood.

When public officials, military officers, the media, and scholars use a wide variety of terms to talk about genocide and other instances of mass violence, they are understood in a way that is fragmented and, often, inaccurate. The unifying concept of atrocity crimes can help the broad, international community identify and understand events as they unfold.

For something to be considered an atrocity crime, it must fit all of the following critera:

  • it is widespread, it is systematic, and it has a large number of victims;

  • it takes place during war or peace and can be national or international;

  • it must be identifiable as genocide, a violation of the laws of war, a crime of aggression, international terrorism, a crime against humanity, or ethnic cleansing;

  • it must be led by a ruling or powerful elite; and

  • individuals can be held accountable and prosecuted for the crime.

There are some key phrases above that help crystallize what must be in place for something to be called an atrocity crime: significant magnitude, high threshold, extreme gravity, and significant numbers.

Step Three: Defining Atrocity Law

Since 1993, the language used in international tribunals changed, but a binding legal term does not exist for the crimes in question. The global community faced this problem of language before, and, in 1944, Raphael Lemkin created the term “genocide.” Now, the global community needs a new term that is both legally accurate and easy for the broad public to understand.

Scheffer argues that “atrocity law is the law applied to atrocity crimes; it is drawn from several disciplines of international law: international criminal law, international humanitarian law, international human-rights law, and the law of war; and it is applied primarily by international and hybrid criminal tribunals.”

Adopting this language would help by

  • making it easier to prosecute nation-states;

  • making the language easier to understand, practically;

  • differentiating between the prosecution of nation-states, high-level perpetrators, and low-level perpetrators; and

  • placing the focus on preventing or ending atrocity crimes, rather than investigating after the fact.

Why Does This Matter?

David Scheffer “pleads” with the international public, political, and legal communities to intervene in, slow down, and—ideally—stop atrocity crimes, rather than waiting to investigate and label these crimes after they occur. He puts forth the term “atrocity crimes” as a critical step in realizing this goal.

During Reading

Annotate the article while you read for four things:

  • places where you are confused or have questions

  • important details that you want to remember

  • places where the author uses strong, emotional language

  • examples of real-world instances that the author uses to strengthen his argument

After Reading

After you read the article, think about the following questions:

  • Do you think using the term “atrocity crimes” would make a difference in slowing or stopping mass violence? Think about the reasons for your response.

  • How does the language we use affect the actions we take? David Scheffer explores this in relation to genocide, but this is something we all experience in our own lives in different ways. What examples can you think of?

  • What commitments can you make, or what actions can you take, to ensure that the language you use is both accurate and powerful enough to create positive change?

The Issue of Intent in the Genocide Convention and Its Effect on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: Toward a Knowledge-Based Approach

This article, written by Katherine Goldsmith and published in Genocide Studies and Prevention in 2010, argues that the international community has put too much emphasis on the word and idea of “intent” in the Genocide Convention, making genocide more difficult to both prevent and punish.

A Note about Structure

Looking for the “writing moves” an author makes can help make an academic article easier to read and make sense of. In this piece, Goldsmith uses a They Say/I Say approach, which means that she first explains what other researchers have written about a subject (they say) and then explains what she is adding to the conversation or debate (I say).1

Before Reading

Before you read the article, read the summary below. This will give you a preview of some of the big ideas you will encounter as you read. Remember, this is only a summary, and some details are left out.

The Problem

On December 9, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations unanimously adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This convention articulates a legal obligation for action in cases of genocide, stating that once genocide has been determined, the United Nations has the responsibility to prevent further atrocities and to punish any already committed. However, since the Genocide Convention was adopted, there have been ongoing and long-standing debates about the precise meaning of the definition and whether a situation is or is not genocide.

The Genocide Convention states, “Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy [a group], in whole or in part.” Because this is a legal definition, however, the fact that “intent” is not further defined gets in the way of the Genocide Convention's efficacy.

This article argues that the international community is interpreting the Genocide Convention incorrectly by placing too much emphasis on the word and idea of intent. Katherine Goldsmith explains two different legal standards of intent, dolus specialis [specific intent] and a knowledge-based approach, and argues in favor of the knowledge-based approach.

They Say: Dolus Specialis Is Appropriate

Some scholars believe that intent in the Genocide Convention relies on a standard of dolus specialis, or specific intent. When used in relation to genocide, this standard means that a perpetrator commits an act of violence while clearly seeking to destroy a particular group in whole or in part. The United Nations International Law Commission supported this standard when it wrote that general intent is not enough; genocide “requires a particular state of mind or a specific intent with respect to the overall consequence of the prohibited act.” Some legal scholars argue that dolus specialis is what separates genocide from other mass atrocity crimes. They say that this distinction is important because it “holds genocide above crimes against humanity in relation to the seriousness of the crime.”

Goldsmith Says: Dolus Specialis Is a Flawed Standard

Goldsmith argues that obtaining proof—beyond a reasonable doubt—of a perpetrator's intention to destroy a group is difficult, if not impossible. This is because intent refers to a person's state of mind, their private thought process. For a prosecutor to prove intent using this standard, perpetrators would need to state their goals explicitly—something they are very unlikely to do.

They Say: A Knowledge-Based Approach Is Better

Some scholars say that dolus specialis is not the appropriate legal standard for genocide and argue that a knowledge-based approach should be used. They say that the dolus specialis requirement goes beyond what the Genocide Convention intended. Adopting this as the legal standard means that if an individual commits an act of violence knowing and understanding that it is part of a widespread, coordinated series of violent acts intended to destroy a group, in whole or in part, they can be prosecuted for genocide.

Goldsmith Says: A Knowledge-Based Approach Should Be Adopted

Goldsmith argues that a knowledge-based standard of intent is most appropriate. If this standard were adopted, the focus could return to (or remain on) protecting the endangered group rather than examining the specific state of mind of the perpetrators. Moreover, it would be possible for all active participants to be prosecuted for the crime of genocide.

Drafting the Genocide Convention: Intent of the Authors

To uncover the letter and spirit of the law, Goldsmith reviews multiple discussions and debates that the original drafters of the Genocide Convention engaged in.

They Say: Dolus Specialis

The standard of dolus specialis was “mentioned” three times during the drafting of the Genocide Convention: twice by the Brazilian delegate and once by the French. Goldsmith points out that “mentioned” is the right word to use here because (1) its use was not affirmed by any other country, and (2) no country pushed for the adoption of the dolus specialis standard when the Genocide Convention was drafted.

They Say: Knowledge-Based Approach

The knowledge-based standard was not stated explicitly during the drafting of the Genocide Convention, but the discussions “seemed to be moving more in that direction.” A 1947 draft states that “the purpose of the Convention is to prevent the destruction of racial, national, linguistic, religious or political groups of human beings.”

Goldsmith Says

When trying to determine the purpose and standard of the Genocide Convention, it is most important to focus on protecting the group in danger … and a knowledge-based approach is more likely to accomplish this.

Intent and Outcomes

Those who argue for a standard of dolus specialis say that it distinguishes genocide as more serious than other crimes, such as crimes against humanity. Goldsmith, however, argues that genocide is a crime against humanity. She writes, “Although genocide is a very shocking crime, there are incidents of crimes against humanity that are just as shocking.” The focus should be, she says, on “the destruction of the group, not constructing a ‘hierarchy of horrible’”; the most important goal of the Genocide Convention in both theory and practice is preventing group destruction.

Goldsmith clearly articulates her argument at the end of the article, writing, “The move away from the … original meaning of intent in the Genocide Convention urgently needs to be corrected. The focus needs to return to protecting groups. The knowledge-based interpretation is the most suitable for achieving this end.”

Why Does This Matter?

Katherine Goldsmith makes an emotional argument to the global community generally, and the United Nations specifically, to refocus on the Genocide Convention's spirit and intent. She believes that if this focus is restored, there will be a more straightforward path toward stopping genocide and other mass atrocity crimes.

During Reading

Annotate the article while you read for four things:

  • places where you are confused or have questions

  • important details that you want to remember

  • places where the author uses strong, emotional language

  • examples of real-world instances that the author uses to strengthen her argument

After Reading

After you read the article, think about the following questions:

  • Which approach do you think would be more effective: dolus specialis or a knowledge-based interpretation? Why?

  • How much do you think that intent matters? In other words, do you think it is necessary to prove that a perpetrator of a crime meant to cause the outcome?

  • Raphael Lemkin argued that “each individual group brings unique qualities to the collective well-being of humankind and destroying one of these groups is a serious crime against all humankind.” Think about a group that you are a part of. What unique qualities does this group bring to the world?

A System, Society, and Community Perspective on Genocide

This article, written by Adrian Gallagher and published in Genocide Studies and Prevention in 2012, argues that even though all scholars and policy makers would like to prevent genocide, they are unable to agree on how to accomplish this because they operate under three very different worldviews.

A Note about Structure

This is a conceptual article. Conceptual pieces link work across disciplines, provide new insights into existing theories, and expand the way readers think about a problem. These articles don't use new data or original research; instead, they take existing studies and connect them in new ways.

Before Reading

Before you read the article, read the summary below. This will give you a preview of some of the big ideas you will encounter as you read. Remember, this is only a summary, and some details are left out.

The Problem

It is safe to say that all genocide scholars want to prevent genocide. When they talk about how to do this, however, they talk past each other, not realizing that they may consider genocide prevention in very different ways.

Gallagher explains that there are three traditions, or worldviews, in international relations, each with its own understandings of power, justice, humanity, cooperation, and—ultimately—genocide. These worldviews are a part of a framework created by Martin Wight, a scholar of international relations. His framework has been used in many areas of international relations but never to analyze the problem of genocide.

The Three Traditions

The core of Wight's model is below (each worldview will be explained in more detail).

Realism: International System Rationalism: International Society Revolutionism: International Community
States seek power and security in order to survive States engage in dialogue to establish common norms, values, principles, and institutions A community of humankind is established

It's important to note that the three traditions, or worldviews, are not infinitely parallel lines; they blur and cross at times. Where individuals fall on this continuum, though, has implications for how they understand war, sovereignty, diplomacy, justice—and genocide prevention.

International System: Realism

Realism has been, and continues to be, a dominant worldview among theorists and policy makers. Realists tend to see a world of international instability rather than international order. They see nation-states as locked in a never-ending international system of conflict and competition for power, security, and survival.

Policy makers who hold this worldview prioritize national security, which means that they do not prioritize genocide prevention. Some real-world examples of this are the following:

  • In 1975, before the conflict in East Timor, the Australian ambassador to Indonesia wrote that Australia should take a “pragmatic rather than a principled stand.”

  • As a process of destruction was unfolding in the former Yugoslavia, the US Secretary of State James Baker said, “We don't have a dog in this fight.”

These quotes point to the idea that genocide prevention is generally not seen as being in a country's national interest and, following from that, is an unrealistic foreign policy.

For realists, whether right or wrong, humankind has divided itself up into states. It is therefore unrealistic to ignore the reality that politicians create policy on behalf of states rather than on behalf of all humankind. They claim that when states do cooperate, they do so only to further national interest. Following on from this, realists believe that genocide is an unsolvable problem and genocide prevention is a dangerous foreign policy that states should not pursue unless their own national interests are threatened.

International Society: Rationalism

Rationalists believe that we have moved beyond an international system and are an international society. This society puts constraints on the state's power to hurt and fosters international cooperation. States that are a part of this society gravitate toward communication and negotiation to describe permissible behavior. An international society is created when norms, values, principles, and institutions of international relations are established.

Within the rationalist perspective, there are two groups: pluralists and solidarists.

  • Pluralists do not believe that states can legitimately intervene in other states’ internal affairs because it breaks the rule of absolute sovereignty (absolute authority).

  • Solidarists see sovereignty as conditional, human rights as universal, and intervention as legitimate if it brings an end to genocide.

On a more nuanced continuum, pluralists are closer to the realist tradition and solidarists closer to the revolutionist worldview.

From the rationalist perspective, the Genocide Convention was an appropriate response to the Holocaust. The Holocaust was not the first genocide, of course. The global “institutionalized indifference” was seen as morally and legally unacceptable in its aftermath. With the adoption of the Genocide Convention, we see a shift toward the rationalists’ international society. It's important to point out that despite this shift, states have failed to fulfill their moral and legal obligations to prevent genocide. Policy makers argue that genocide prevention will likely lead to dangerous situations for their own citizens, reverting back to a more realist, international system view.

Ultimately, rationalists seek to gradually improve the international society rather than radically redesign it.

International Community: Revolutionism

Revolutionists prioritize the value of humanity over power and order and want to see international relations progress to the point where individual security is valued above state security.

An international community should not be dismissed as an impossible utopian ideal; some revolutionist principles already exist in international relations. For example, although there is debate about what constitutes a universal good, there is agreement over what constitutes a universal bad. This can be seen in the case of genocide, which is a paradigm example of harm, of a universal bad.

The concept of humanity is the core difference between rationalism and revolutionism. Revolutionists see human beings as connected and argue that “a violation of rights in one part of the world is felt everywhere.” People with this worldview urge policy makers to consider genocide prevention from the interest of humanity rather than the interest of the state. When faced with genocide, revolutionists argue that since states can cooperate, they should cooperate to prevent genocide.

There is a deep philosophical argument that points out one limit of this worldview. Revolutionists look to a shared humanity to condemn genocide as inhuman. But because ordinary people participate in genocide, some argue that such events are, in fact, human. This raises the question about whether or not there is a shared humanity among all people and argues that, perhaps, if there isn't, we should aim to create, nurture, and protect one.

Ultimately, revolutionists generally accept that we do not live in an international community but are committed to revolutionist principles with the hope that, one day, a community of humankind can be established.

Why Does It Matter?

Scholars (and the broad public) often comment on the failure of the international community to prevent genocide, yet it is clear that most do not believe a true international community exists. The three traditions highlight the fact that genocide prevention is dependent upon people who understand cooperation, power, justice, order, human nature, and genocide in very different ways.

During Reading

Annotate the article while you read for three things:

  • places where you are confused or have questions

  • important details that you want to remember

  • your impressions of each worldview (What do you agree with? What do you disagree with?)

After Reading

After you read the article, think about the following questions:

  • What worldview are you most naturally aligned with? In what ways? Why?

  • What strengths does each worldview have? What weaknesses does each worldview have?

  • Where do you think scholars and policy makers from the different traditions could come to consensus?

Pulling It All Together

The articles used here work together to tell a story—one that is not yet finished. The problem of this story is genocide. More specifically, the problem is the recurrence of genocide despite an international commitment decades ago to prevent and punish this horrific crime.

Each article was written to move our international society closer to the end of the story, where genocide no longer plagues us.

Now, we look to you to keep writing this story.

Think of yourself as a political leader, policy maker, scholar, or activist.

How will you lead your generation in preventing genocide?

What obligation does the global community have to prevent genocide?

How should a nation respond to genocide that takes place in another nation?

There are many resources about genocide and genocide prevention, ranging from documentaries and movies to books and podcasts, academic studies and articles.

The five institutes listed below are dedicated to the prevention of genocide and mass atrocity crimes around the world:

United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect

Zoryan Institute

Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide

Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities

Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention


1. For more about this approach, see Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, 5th ed. (New York: Norton, 2021).