Raphael Lemkin Essay
His mother was a kind of Renaissance woman, who taught him books, and love of art and music.
He became a public prosecutor and as he became a lawyer, he started studying what he called at the time, “barbarity,” in all the areas where there were mass killings.
He has written a series of books: The Warrior’s Honor, which deals with the ethnic destruction and issues of conscience, The Russian Album, which has won the Governor’s Prize, Needs of Strangers, Scar Tissue -- of which he has developed some of his own, in his various travels -- and a recent book dealing with the war in Kosovo.
My favorite book of all those that he has written, is a diary of Isaiah Berlin, a great philosopher, human rights advocate, and animator of human rights concepts and the philosophy of human rights.
This kind of particularism is much more common in the ethical history of mankind than the universalism that is implied in the idea of a crime against humanity.
Moral universalism is a late and very vulnerable addition to the vocabulary of mankind.
When we are through here tonight I invite you to come down and see that, because it’s something that we should remember.
It’s so easy to forget and have a sleeping conscience where it comes to matters of genocidal proportion that we need to be reminded of it.
Raphael Lemkin was the man who coined the term, “Genocide Convention.” He was born in Poland a hundred years ago, grew up in a household which was attuned to arts and culture.And this resulted, eventually, in his writing a book, where he coined, for the first time, the word “genocide.” Others, Winston Churchill, for example, had called the destruction of an entire people, “a crime without a name.” Well, Lemkin not only gave it a name, but he lobbied for the Genocide Convention and it was passed on December 9, 1948, one day before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.The Committee on Conscience of the Holocaust Memorial Museum is devoted to keeping the memory of the past alive, but for the purpose of addressing the future.Most morality takes root within tribal boundaries and it remains confined within a tribe’s essential allegiances and interests. Morality articulates identity and identity depends on difference.So for millennia, as we know, human beings saw nothing odd, nothing odd at all, about slavery.Now, the obvious answer only seems obvious if you assume what in fact requires demonstration.Namely, that we belong to the same species and we owe each other the same duties of care.I want to publicly acknowledge my indebtedness to Bill Korey who has come from New York to hear the lecture.I’ve learned an enormous amount from Bill Korey’s work on the origin of human rights and the NGO movement.I mention a particular effort that we are engaged in now of a potential genocide in Sudan.Outside of this auditorium you will see a very telling exhibit about the potential genocide in Sudan.