3-5.12 | Witness to the Age of Genocide. Rafał Lemkin and the Convention of 1948 | conference

21 November 2018


Pilecki Institute is honoured to announce an international, interdisciplinary conference in the memory of Raphael Lemkin, Polish-Jewish jurist, author of the term genocide and initiator of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the United Nations on 9 December 1948.


Witness to the Age of Genocide.
Rafał Lemkin and the Convention of 1948
3–5 December 2018

Warsaw University

Krakowskie Przedmieście 24/26, Warsaw



December 2018 marks the 70 anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The term genocide was coined by Rephael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish jurist, the author of the Convention against genocide. The aim of this conference is a broad interdisciplinary reflection on the historical meaning and continued relevance of Lemkin’s concept. We will discuss the provisions of the Convention, its application, legacy and political impact.

A reflection on Lemkin’s biography and legacy shall bring a better understanding of his relationship with pre-war Poland and its academia. In order to explain the genesis of Lemkin’s concept – the most significant answer to all the great tragedies of the XX century, created on the basis of law and political philosophy – we shall discuss Lemkin’s inspiration with the Lviv school of legal thought, his roots in the traditions of multinational and multicultural Poland, and an experience of the two totalitarian regimes of the XX century. Warsaw – the capital of the Second Polish Republic, where Lemkin lived and worked before the Second World War, is the most convenient place to discuss his legacy.

Taking as a basis the definition of genocide, we aim to discuss this phenomenon from a multidisciplinary perspective. Historians recognize that genocide – a crime, whose characteristics have been defined in a particular place and time, is a phenomenon, which has been present throughout history. However, it has been defined and legally regulated only in the XX century – which proved to be an age of tragic events: the Armenian Genocide, the Great Famine in Ukraine, the Katyn Massacre, the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi, and above all the Holocaust.

The conference will draw attention to the link between totalitarian regimes and genocide – phenomena which with equal intensity marked the XX century. Genocide is also a fundamental theme in the theory and philosophy of politics. Everyone who decides to use this term needs to ask about the character of the group which is being protected ( i.e. community, nation) and about their right to peaceful coexistence and desired form. Aside dilemmas discussed by various human sciences in the context of the phenomenon and theory of genocide, another challenge is the popular understanding of the term genocide. A desire to be declared a victim, diverse cultures of remembrance, different narratives of the past – all those endeavors mean that reflections about Rafael Lemkin’s legacy and genocide shall not be dedicated only to scientists. This topic equally concerns politicians, and raises interest of journalists and whole societies.

PARTNER: Faculty of Political Science and International Studies

The conference was co-financed under the Ministry of Science and Higher Education’s “Szlakami Polski Niepodległej” Program for the years 2018–2023, project no. 01SPN1705318, amount of funding: 985,110 PLN.

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