NEW YORK, Oct. 21 Current news headlines are a sad reminder that genocide has been, and continues to be, a stain on human existence in all corners of the world, from Rwanda to Armenia, to Darfur and beyond.

Those headlines also underscore the urgency of addressing every instance of the crime, particularly in light of a statement made by Adolf Hitler before invading Poland in 1939: “… I put ready my Death’s Head units, with orders to send to death, mercilessly and without compassion, all men, women, and children of the Polish race or language. … Who, after all, still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?” Inscribed on the wall of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., that quote illustrates that Hitler was emboldened by the lack of international response to Turkey’s killing of more than a million ethnic Armenians during World War I. By contrast, however, that episode in human history was also the spark that led to the tireless efforts of one man to define the crime of genocide under international law and enable perpetrators, such as a recently arrested suspect in the Rwandan genocide, to be charged and brought to justice. That man was Raphael Lemkin, whose life-long devotion to the cause not only coined and defined the word “genocide,” but led to the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The invaluable contributions of Lemkin will be the focus of an international public conference,

“Genocide and Human Experience: Raphael Lemkin’s Thought and Vision,” to be held Sunday, November 15, from 9:00 a.m.-6:30 p.m., at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street in New York City.

Bringing together for the first time an international group of historians, political scientists, anthropologists, philosophers, philanthropists, and legal authorities to explore the tremendous legacy and impact of Lemkin’s work, the landmark conference will also delve into perpetually relevant questions of human rights and the nature of human behavior.

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