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The term genocide was coined in the mid-20th century to describe acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. The Holocaust is a significant example of genocide, though the Ottoman Turk mass murder of Armenians and Kurds, the slaughter of Mayan civilians by the Guatemalan military government, and the Hutu massacre of the Tutsi in Rwanda are other major historical examples of genocide.

Although many genocidal attacks have occurred outside of the United States, both the perpetrators and their victims have commonly immigrated. Victims have sought justice against their former persecutors and, in response, federal law has sought to provide the government with a basis to prosecute the perpetrators of genocide present in the country.

The following article provides an overview of the U.S. federal crime of genocide.

Definition of Genocide Under U.S. Law

Although it is rarely used, 18 US Code, Section 1091 establishes the criminal offense of genocide. Its definition includes acts perpetuated with the intent to destroy in whole or substantial part an ethnic, racial, or religious group. Acts include the following:

  • Killing members of that group;
  • Causing serious bodily injury to members of that group;
  • Causing permanent impairment to the mental faculties of members of the group through drugs, torture, or similar techniques;
  • Subjecting the group to conditions of life intended to cause the physical destruction of the group as a whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or
  • Forcing the transfer of children of the group to another group.

There's no statute of limitations on the crime of genocide.

U.S. Jurisdiction Over Genocidal Acts

The United States has jurisdiction if the offense occurred within the United States or if the accused offender is:

  • A national of the United States;
  • A lawful permanent resident of the United States;
  • A stateless person whose habitual residence is in the United States; or
  • A person present in the United States.

These acts are criminal whether or not they take place during a time of war. The law also punishes those who incite others to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, and attempts to commit genocide.

Penalties for Genocide

This serious crime carries significant potential penalties. The punishment of the basic offense is:

  • In the case of an act where a death resulted, execution or life imprisonment and a fine of up to $1 million; and
  • In other cases, imprisonment of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $1 million.

Incitement is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. Both attempt and conspiracy are punishable in the same manner as a person who completed their offense.

Whenever You're Facing Criminal Charges, You'll Need Expert Legal Help

A genocide charge has enormous repercussions and needs to be taken seriously by both the government and the accused. A professional legal defense is almost certainly necessary, since cases of this kind are often complicated and can include complex evidentiary issues and allegations that can be difficult to establish. If you're facing this or any other federal charges, it's important to contact a qualified criminal defense attorney to understand your rights under the law.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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