While contemplating the controversy around the alleged Russian genocide of Ukrainians and the responses I have received in the discussion, I realised that perhaps the following logical nuance is relevant.
According to the simplified definition (talking only about killings),
“genocide” means killing members of the group with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such.
Let us first consider that definition without the clause on intentionality and then add this clause.
Definition without intentionality
Consider the following notions (for the sake of simplicity, we ignore here the condition of intention in the definition of genocide):
- MASS MURDER;
Any mass murder is some number of murders but not vice versa.
Likewise, any genocide is a mass murder but not vice versa.
Mass murder has to satisfy some additional conditions to be genocide. For example, the murdered have to be of the same nationality.
It creates the following nuance:
If the murderer kills 1 person, it is a murder.
If the murderer kills N persons, N > 1, then, at some point, we say that it is mass murder. And, of course, we assume that the larger the number N, the more serious is the crime. Therefore, the larger the number N of killed people, the more severe has to be the punishment.
However, suppose now that one has murdered N people of the given nationality, and this is genocide. If the number N of killed people of the given nationality increases, the crime becomes more serious, and the punishment should be more severe.
But what if the number N of killed people increases by the number M, but these M people are from some other nationalities?
The following mathematical feature appears:
- The greater the number M of additionally murdered people is, the more serious that mass murder is and the more severe has to be the punishment for mass murder.
- The greater the number M of randomly killed people is, the less that crime corresponds to the definition of genocide.
Understandably, this might be a disappointment for those who wanted to punish the criminal for the genocide. It is particularly so if mass murder cannot be penalised for some legal reasons.
It is confusing.
And what is a greater crime: killing more people, but randomly or killing more people of the given nationality?
Definition with intentionality
Now, let us add the condition of intention: mass killing of people of a given nationality is genocide if the intention was to kill them as representatives of that nationality.
Then, there appear some exceptions. For example, suppose that someone intends to kill people of a given nationality. Suppose that one kills N people of a given nationality and then, to confuse the observers, kills additional M people of random nationality. Then, the commonsense decision would be the following. If the intentions can be proved, it is also possible to demonstrate the genocide.
It is not always the case that if the victims’ number increases, the seriousness of the given crime increases. It is so because the type of crime may change if the victims’ number increases.
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 9 December.
Eintalu, Jüri (2022) “Parliament’s Decision on the Genocide in Ukraine is Astonishing”. Medium, 26 April 2022.
genocide. Encyclopedia of Britannica.
genocide. Online Etymology Dictionary.
genocide (1998) Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Article 6. 17 July.
Kangro, Karin (2022) “Riigikogu adopted a Statement on Russia’s war crimes and genocide in Ukraine”. Parliament of Estonia, Press Releases. 21 April.
Orwell, George (2013) Nineteen Eighty-four. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, p 77.
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) (2015)
Statement of the Riigikogu. On the War Crimes and Genocide committed by the Russian Federation in Ukraine (2022) Estonian Parliament, 21 April.