Public statement by the Aegis Trust to mark the 75th Anniversary of Holodomor
Today is the official day of remembrance marking the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor, the Soviet-made famine which caused the deaths of an estimated four to six million Ukrainians in the period 1932-1933. The Aegis Trust joins with the survivors and the people of Ukraine in mourning the men, women and children whose lives were cruelly taken from them.
The Holodomor involved Soviet confiscation of grain and other foodstuffs from most of rural Ukraine, combined with border closures which prevented the starving from fleeing to find food and stopped international aid from reaching them.
In 1933, the lawyer Raphael Lemkin urged the League of Nations to recognize such mass atrocities against a particular group as an international crime. He was ignored. A few years later, the Nazi regime murdered six million Jews, including Lemkins own family.
In 1943, Lemkin created a new word to describe such mass killing. He combined the Greek and Latin words, ‘geno (race or tribe) and ‘cide (killing). He proposed the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, approved in 1948.
According to the Convention:
Genocide means 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;
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The first draft of the Convention included political groups as well as those defined by nationality, ethnicity, race or religion, but following objections from the Soviet Union and several other countries, political groups were left out.
It is argued that motivation for Soviet policy to bring about mass starvation in the Ukraine was the destruction of Ukrainian nationalism. However, whatever the motivation in targeting them, the victims were defined by their Ukrainian ethnic identity. The Soviet regime succeeded in its intention to inflict on the group conditions calculated to bring about massive physical destruction. This falls within the definition of genocide provided by the UN Genocide Convention.
Lemkin himself described the Holodomor as “perhaps the classic example of Soviet genocide, its longest and broadest experiment in Russification – the destruction of the Ukrainian nation.”
Regrettably, the debate over whether or not the Holodomor constitutes genocide often becomes overlaid with political considerations and continues to distract governments and policy makers around the world from simply honouring the memory of its victims – and from reflecting on the lessons it holds for a world in which genocide continues.
For more information, contact David Brown in the media office at the Aegis Trust on +44 (0)7921 471985, email: [email protected]
The Aegis Trust is the leading UK-based international genocide prevention organization. Based at the UK Holocaust Centre, it coordinates the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Genocide Prevention and is responsible for the Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda. Aegis is at the forefront of the international campaign to end the Darfur crisis.