Genocide, as defined by the United Nations in 1948, means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including

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“In Germany they first came for the communists; and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews; and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists; and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics; and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic. Then they came for me – and by that time there was nobody left to speak up.”

– Martin Niemoller

Despite the presumed advance of civilization the phenomenon of mass hate and killing continues. The impact of historical cases of genocide remains a potent root cause of the ethnic and religious divisions that fuel current violent conflicts.

The Jewish Holocaust has been ingrained in the world’s collective memory, but it is not the only case of genocide, nor even the worst. The Irish, Armenians, Chechens have all suffered the similar human devastation. In Africa, the killing fields of Rwanda have not yet recovered, and the memory of Khymer Rouge is still fresh in the minds of Cambodians. In Russia the purges of the Stalin era were among the worst cases of crimes against humanity.

Genocide, as defined by the United Nations in 1948, means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including:

  • Killing members of the group

  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group

  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part

  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group

  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The 8 Stages of Genocide

Genocide is a process that develops in eight stages that are predictable but not inexorable. At each stage, preventive measures can stop it. The process is not linear. Logically, later stages must be preceded by earlier stages. But all stages continue to operate throughout the process.

1. CLASSIFICATION: All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them” by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality: German and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi. Bipolar societies that lack mixed categories, such as Rwanda and Burundi, are the most likely to have genocide. The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop universalistic institutions that transcend ethnic or racial divisions, that actively promote tolerance and understanding, and that promote classifications that transcend the divisions. The Catholic church could have played this role in Rwanda, had it not been riven by the same ethnic cleavages as Rwandan society. Promotion of a common language in countries like Tanzania has also promoted transcendent national identity. This search for common ground is vital to early prevention of genocide.

2. SYMBOLIZATION: We give names or other symbols to the classifications. We name people “Jews” or “Gypsies”, or distinguish them by colors or dress; and apply the symbols to members of groups. Classification and symbolization are universally human and do not necessarily result in genocide unless they lead to the next stage, dehumanization. When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups: the yellow star for Jews under Nazi rule, the blue scarf for people from the Eastern Zone in Khmer Rouge Cambodia. To combat symbolization, hate symbols can be legally forbidden (swastikas) as can hate speech. Group marking like gang clothing or tribal scarring can be outlawed, as well. The problem is that legal limitations will fail if unsupported by popular cultural enforcement. Though Hutu and Tutsi were forbidden words in Burundi until the 1980’s, code-words replaced them. If widely supported, however, denial of symbolization can be powerful, as it was in Bulgaria, where the government refused to supply enough yellow badges and at least eighty percent of Jews did not wear them, depriving the yellow star of its significance as a Nazi symbol for Jews.

3. DEHUMANIZATION: One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to vilify the victim group. In combating this dehumanization, incitement to genocide should not be confused with protected speech. Genocidal societies lack constitutional protection for countervailing speech, and should be treated differently than democracies. Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen. Hate radio stations should be shut down, and hate propaganda banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished.

4. ORGANIZATION: Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility (the Janjaweed in Darfur.) Sometimes organization is informal (Hindu mobs led by local RSS militants) or decentralized (terrorist groups.) Special army units or militias are often trained and armed. Plans are made for genocidal killings. To combat this stage, membership in these militias should be outlawed. Their leaders should be denied visas for foreign travel. The U.N. should impose arms embargoes on governments and citizens of countries involved in genocidal massacres, and create commissions to investigate violations, as was done in post-genocide Rwanda.

5. POLARIZATION: Extremists drive the groups apart. Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda. Laws may forbid intermarriage or social interaction. Extremist terrorism targets moderates, intimidating and silencing the center. Moderates from the perpetrators’ own group are most able to stop genocide, so are the first to be arrested and killed. Prevention may mean security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups. Assets of extremists may be seized, and visas for international travel denied to them. Coups d’état by extremists should be opposed by international sanctions.

6. PREPARATION: Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. Members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is expropriated. They are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. At this stage, a Genocide Emergency must be declared. If the political will of the great powers, regional alliances, or the U.N. Security Council can be mobilized, armed international intervention should be prepared, or heavy assistance provided to the victim group to prepare for its self-defense. Otherwise, at least humanitarian assistance should be organized by the U.N. and private relief groups for the inevitable tide of refugees to come.

7. EXTERMINATION begins, and quickly becomes the mass killing legally called “genocide.” It is “extermination” to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human. When it is sponsored by the state, the armed forces often work with militias to do the killing. Sometimes the genocide results in revenge killings by groups against each other, creating the downward whirlpool-like cycle of bilateral genocide (as in Burundi). At this stage, only rapid and overwhelming armed intervention can stop genocide. Real safe areas or refugee escape corridors should be established with heavily armed international protection. (An unsafe “safe” area is worse than none at all.) The U.N. Standing High Readiness Brigade, EU Rapid Response Force, or regional forces -- should be authorized to act by the U.N. Security Council if the genocide is small. For larger interventions, a multilateral force authorized by the U.N. should intervene. If the U.N. is paralyzed, regional alliances must act. It is time to recognize that the international responsibility to protect transcends the narrow interests of individual nation states. If strong nations will not provide troops to intervene directly, they should provide the airlift, equipment, and financial means necessary for regional states to intervene.

8. DENIAL is the eighth stage that always follows a genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile. There they remain with impunity, like Pol Pot or Idi Amin, unless they are captured and a tribunal is established to try them. The response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts. There the evidence can be heard, and the perpetrators punished. Tribunals like the Yugoslav or Rwanda Tribunals, or an international tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or an International Criminal Court may not deter the worst genocidal killers. But with the political will to arrest and prosecute them, some may be brought to justice.

© 1998 Gregory H. Stanton. Originally presented as a briefing paper at the US State Department in 1996.

Modern Genocide – a brief review:

The Irish Famine  [1845-1850]

Estimated Death Toll: 1,500,000, Refugees 1,500,000

Even today, anti-British murals on the walls of West Belfast proclaim: “There was No Famine,” as many of the Irish argue that England exploited the potato famine of the early 1840’s to decimate the population of its unruly colony - Ireland 

The Irish Famine of 1846-50 took as many as one million lives from hunger and disease, and another one million emigrated and many died on the “coffin ships” to America, Australia and Canada. As a result of the famine, disease and emigration, Ireland's population decreased by an estimated 3 million people. From this tragedy sprang a renewed fervor for Irish nationalism that would lead to independence for part of the island and decades of war for Northern Ireland. 

Additional Information:
The Irish Famine BBC by Jim Donnelly

Stalin’s Purges and Forced Famine[1932-1938]

Estimated Death Toll: Approx. 100-200,000 Jews; 5 million Ukrainians killed 1932-33, 14-15 million Soviet peasants 1930-37, and at least 3 million "enemies of the people" 1937-38.

During Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror in Russia and the Soviet Republics his regime killed or starved an estimated 15 million peasants, 5 million Ukrainians, 200,000 Jews; and as many as 3 million enemies of the state. Stalin used mass annihilation as a tactic to control dissent, force cooperation with state policies and to unify an incredibly diverse population people by targeting specific scapegoat groups.

Soviet Jews were killed as scapegoats, Ukrainian peasants were killed as part of Stalin’s collectivization pogrom and political opponents and intellectuals were killed as enemies of the state. The combined tragedy of the Soviet’s political genocide exceeds even the scope of the Nazi Holocaust. 

Today’s revolts in Chechnya, Georgia and other former republics of the U.S.S.R., have deep roots in the atrocities of the Stalin era.

Additional Information:

Soviet Union at The Campaign to End Genocide

Stalin's Forced Famine at The History Place

Armenians in Turkey [1915-1918]

Estimated Death Toll: Approx. 1.5 million killed, 500 thousand expelled

After a group of “Young Turks” seized full control of the Turkish government in 1913, Christian Armenians, representing about 10% of the population were branded as infidels (non-believers in Islam). The Turks first disarmed the entire Armenian population and issued orders to provincial governors to arrest and kill the Armenian leaders and intellectuals, and then proceeded to round up all Armenians and deport them. During long overland marches deportees were killed, or died. An estimated 2 million Armenians were killed, while as few as 500,000 survived the deportation to Syria and Iraq. By 1918, an Armenian resistance emerged that resulted in establishing an the independent Republic of Armenia. Today, the region remains a focus for conflict involving Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Additional Information:
Armenians in Turkey at The Campaign to End Genocide

Armenians in Turkey  at The History Place

The Japanese Invasion of China (The Rape of Nanking)[1937-38]

Estimated Death Toll: Over 300,000 people

In the prelude to World War II, Japan invaded China in 1937. In December, the Japanese Imperial Army marched into China's capital city of Nanking, murdering an estimated 300,000 out of 600,000 civilians and soldiers in the city. Challenged to assert control over a population many times larger than its army, the Japanese resorted used  mass murder to terrorize the Chinese. The so-called, Rape of Nanking was considered the single worst atrocity during the World War II era.

Additional Information:
Rape of Nanking: at The History Place

The Nazi Holocaust  [1938-1945]

Estimated Death Toll:  6 million Jews, 5 million others including 500,000 Gypsies, 6 million Poles, 5,000 to 15,000 homosexuals

Adolf Hitler came to power after Germany’s defeat in World War I, and blamed the Jews for Germany’s failures. He launched a sophisticated propaganda campaign demonizing the Jewish scapegoats and glorifying the Germanic Aryan race. The Nazis expelled Jews and imposed pogroms of forced migration, but as World War II demanded more decisive action, Hitler adopted his Final Solution. State-sanctioned anti-Semitism and persecution gave way to liquidation squads and concentration camps. The Nazi leaders developed intricate programs to capture and kill Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and homosexuals in factories of mass destruction. While the estimate that the Holocaust claimed the lives of 6 million Jews is well known, historians also estimate that, the Nazis exterminated an additional 5-6 million non-Jews. 

Additional Information:
the Holocaust  The Campaign to End Genocide

Nazi Holocaust: at The History Place

Cambodia and the Khymer Rouge [1975-1979]

Estimated Death Toll: Approx. 1-3 million killed in Cambodia

After fighting a vicious insurgency campaign since 1970, the Khymer Rouge took control of Cambodia in 1975 after the U.S. withdrawal from Viet Nam and Southeast Asia. Once in power Pol Pot launched his plan to establish an agrarian utopia forcing millions of city-dwellers to perform virtual slave labor in Cambodia’s “killing fields.” Those who resisted were killed, others died from starvation and labor abuses.  In January 1979, an invasion by Vietnamese forces deposed Pol Pot, ending one of the centuries most notorious reigns of terror. .

Additional Information:
Cambodia at The Campaign to End Genocide

Pol Pot in Cambodia: at The History Place

Indonesia [1965-66; 1972 & 1999]

Estimated Numbers: Approx. 500,000 killed in Indonesia, 500,000 arrested; 200-300,000 killed in East Timor

After a failed coup blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), the army retaliated against the PKI, killing an estimated 500,000 PKI supporters and arresting 500,000 others, mainly civilians. In 1967, Suharto became president of Indonesia, and with continued U.S. backing, was relentless in repressing communists until 1998. Indonesia invaded the island of east Timor in 1975, the day after a visit to Jakarta by President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited Indonesian. Despite U.N. appeals, the subsequent occupation by Indonesia  claimed over 200,000 lives, or 1/3 of the population.

Additional Information:

Indonesia at The Campaign to End Genocide

Rwanda [1994]

Estimated Numbers: 500,000-1 million killed, 1.5-2 million refugees

Rwanda is comprised of two main ethnic groups, the Hutu (85-90%) and the Tutsis (10-15%) The Tutsis were the ruling class.  After independence from Belgium in 1962, the Hutu majority seized power, oppressing the Tutsis, many of whom fled and formed a rebel guerrilla army, the Rwandan Patriotic Front. The Tutsi rebels invaded Rwanda and forced the Hutu President to accept a power-sharing agreement. genociderwanda-1

In October 1993 the first elected Hutu president of Burundi was assassinated, sparking conflict and a U.N. 2,500 strong peacekeeping force was sent to preserve a cease-fire while Rwandan and Burundi presidents met to work out a peace plan. After their airplane was shot down the Hutus began an unprecedented killing spree, while the international community watched in horror and did nothing. In July 1994, Tutsi rebels defeated the Hutus, stopping the genocide, which had claimed over 800,000 lives, more than 10% of Rwanda’s population.

Additional Information:

Rwanda at The Campaign to End Genocide

Rwanda: at The History Place

Bosnia-Herzogovina [1992-1995]

Death Toll: Est. 200,000

Yugoslavia has a long history of conflict between a very diverse mix of ethnic and religious groups. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, fighting erupted between various ethnic groups in Yugoslavia, leading to independence for Slovenia and Croatia. When Bosnian Muslims declared independence, Yugoslav president Slobadan Milosevic attacked to support the Serbian minority. As the Serbs forces advanced, they began to systematically eliminate Muslims and Muslim villages, in what became known as “ethnic cleansing.”  Over 200,000 Muslim civilians were murdered and 2,000,000 fled as refugees before NATO forces intervened to halt the genocide. After agreeing to a cease-fire in Bosnia, the Serbs focused their attention and ethnic cleansing on Kosovo, which led to the NATO air war and the arrest of Milosevic on war crimes charges.

Additional Information:

Bosnia-Herzegovina  at The History Place

Sudan [1983- present]

Estimated Death Toll: Approx. 2 million killed, 4-5 million displaced

In 1948, Britain granted independence to Sudan, a divided country dominated by Arab Muslims in the North and Christians, or native animists in the South. Since then , the government in Khartoum has tried to impose Islamic rule over the entire country and has pursued a policy of genocide or ethnic cleansing to eliminate the non-Muslim populations. According to the US Committee for Refugees, around 2 million people have been killed and 4 to 5 million internally displaced since 1983. Refugee organizations report that, as of 1999, 420,000 Sudanese refugees are dispersed across 7 countries. To add to the hardship, the UNHCR estimates that 391,500 external refugees from neighboring conflicts have fled into Sudan over the past 35 years.

Sudan at The Campaign to End Genocide

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