Though the subject of crimes against humanity dominated Raphael Lemkin’s personal and professional life, his legacy—as the person who first coined the term “genocide” in the early 1940s—transcends the tragedy that surrounded him. Lemkin proved to be one of the great persuaders of the twentieth century. He was an attorney, who, in spite of the improbable odds against him, would not stop until he had won his case. Like any good lawyer, Raphael Lemkin was searching for just the right word—a word that he hoped would make a difference. Without resources, position, fanfare, or even general public acknowledgement, he guided the world towards a system of international justice.
The Raphael Lemkin Award is granted to those individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to social justice and international human rights within the context of genocide. Lemkin tirelessly advocated for the United Nations to recognize the term “genocide” and for it to be deemed a crime in international law. He was dedicated to urging nations to support the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. This award is granted to those individuals who display similar commitment as Lemkin, leaving a longlisting impact for posterity.
Below are the previous Raphael Lemkin Award recipients
Benjamin Ferencz, 2015
Ferencz was the chief prosecutor for the Unites States in the Einsatzgruppen Case heard at the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, and the last-surviving Nuremberg prosecutor. Ferencz’s parents fled to the United States from Transylvania when he was a young boy. Ferencz graduated from Harvard Law school in 1943, and in 1947, at the age of 27, was promoted to chief prosecutor for the Einsatzgruppen Case—his first case. At the time of the 1948 trial, Ferencz was a U.S. Army general. He successfully tried 22 defendants accused of over one million cold-blooded killings. Professor and CSLG Founding Director Stanley Goldman interviewed Ferencz and bestowed the award to him at his home in Florida. View the interview conducted by Goldman about Ferencz’s experiences prosecuting genocide and human rights cases here.
Taner Akçam, 2013
Akçam is a highly respected Turkish historian and scholar of the Armenian Genocide. As editor-in-chief of a student political journal he was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison for speaking out against the Turkish government. He escaped to Germany a year later and received political asylum. There, Akçam gained his Ph.D. and began publishing his historical and sociological research into the Armenian Genocide. Akçam eventually moved to the United States, and has been a member of the history department at Clark University since 2008. Akçam has received death threats for his work and has been targeted by an ultra-nationalist terrorist group. In 2011, in a significant human rights and free speech victory, the European Court of Human Rights found that Turkey had violated Akçam’s freedom of expression by threatening to prosecute him for publicly denouncing Turkey’s role in the Armenian Genocide under a Turkish law that made it a crime to insult “Turkishness”.
Gabriel Bach, 2011
The inaugural Lemkin Award was given to Gabriel Bach, who as Deputy Attorney General of Israel served as one of the prosecutors in the 1961 trial of former Nazi leader and architect of the Holocaust Adolph Eichmann. Bach and his family emigrated from Nazi Germany to the Netherlands, and eventually settled in Jerusalem. He was the only Jewish child to survive from the grade school he attended in Amsterdam. The Eichmann case set an important precedent in enabling a country to try perpetrators of serious war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide under principles of universal jurisdiction. The trial is now seen as an educational tool and inspiration for future prosecutors. Bach’s illustrious legal career was capped in 1982 when he was appointed as a judge of the Israeli Supreme Court, a post which he held until 1997. Professor and CSLG Founding Director Stanley Goldman’s interview of Bach at his home in Israel can be viewed here.