The UN’s Genocide Convention and “We Charge Genocide”

Matthew Teutsch
6 min readMay 13, 2022

On June 26, 1945, the United States, along with other nations, signed the Charter of the United Nations which mandates that its members work towards the maintaining of international peace, upholding international law, and working to secure and maintain equality and equity by “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” Three years later, the United Nations met and held the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and they signed the resolution on December 19, 1948. It took effect in January of 1951. This convention arose out of the Holocaust and World War II, and it codified, in international law, the definition of genocide. While the United States signed the document in 1948, it did not ratify it at home until November 5, 1988, forty years after the convention.

In 1951, William Patterson and the Civil Rights Congress submitted a petition to the United Nations charging the United States with genocide of African Americans and Blacks in the nation. We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People lays out detailed evidence pointing out how the United States has systematically violated the articles of the Genocide Convention, notably in the “killing of members of the group,” “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,” the deliberate infliction of policies and acts that “bring about physical destruction in whole or in part,” and more, including the prevention of births and removal of children from families. We Charge Genocide focuses, specifically, on six years of evidence, between 1945–1951, and in those six years, they detail countless acts of violence, abuse, and harassments against African Americans and Blacks.

As I read the opening sections of We Charge Genocide, the argument didn’t strike me, mostly because what they charge and lay out comes from decades and generations of history which supports the claim. They present this history, in a truncated manner, by tracing enslavement, share cropping, the coup in Wilmington in 1898, Jim Crow, and more. No, what stood out to me was why countless individuals refused to accept the Genocide Convention or the United Nations itself. These discussions made me return to Elizabeth Gillespie McRae’s…

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Matthew Teutsch

Here, you will find reflections on African American, American, and Southern Literature, American popular culture and politics, and pedagogy.