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Genocide has been defined as the deliberate killing of people based on their ethnicity, nationality, race, religion, or (sometimes) politics. There is disagreement over whether the term genocide ought to be used for politically-motivated mass murders in general (compare "democide").

The word genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew, in 1944, from the roots genos (Greek for family, tribe or race) and -cide (Latin for killing). Lemkin campaigned for the international laws defining and forbidding genocide (in the non-political sense), and achieved his goal in 1951.

Table of contents
1 Definitions of genocide
2 International law
3 Related concepts
4 Some alleged genocides in history
5 Notes
6 Further reading
7 External links

Definitions of genocide

Much debate about genocide revolves around the proper definition of the word genocide. Opponents of government massacres often insist that the word's usage should include such massacres, even if international law has a narrower scope. These advocates complain that a narrower definition may be seen as exculpating the totalitarian governments that, they claim, killed over 100 million of their own citizens during the 20th century.

Others insist that the word should be used only in the accepted sense in international law, which limits the scope to "national, ethnical, racial or religious" groups, even if this excludes some massacres. These advocates claim that their preferred usage is closer to the word's literal meaning and to the primary meanings found in dictionaries. However, the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary [1] definition reads as follows: "the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group".

Genocide as a crime under international law

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1948 and came into effect in January 1951. It contains an internationally-recognized definition of genocide which was incorporated into the national criminal legislation of many countries, and was also adopted by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Convention (in article 2) defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:"
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The first draft of the Convention included political killings but that language was removed at the insistence of the Soviet Union. The exclusion of social and political groups as targets of genocide in this legal definition has been criticized. In common usage of the word, these target groups are often included.

Common usage also sometimes equates genocide with state-sponsored mass murder, but genocide, as defined above, does not imply mass-murder (or any murder) nor is every instance of mass-murder necessarily genocide. Neither is the involvement of a government required. The word 'genocide' is also sometimes used in a much broader sense, as in "slavery was genocide", but this usage diverges from the legal definition set by the UN.

International law

All signatories to the above mentioned convention are required to prevent and punish acts of genocide, both in peace and wartime, though some barriers make this enforcement difficult. Genocide is dealt with as an international matter, by the UN, and can never be treated as an internal affair of a country. It is commonly accepted that, at least since World War II, genocide has been illegal under customary international law as a peremptory norm, as well as under conventional international law. Acts of genocide are generally difficult to establish, for prosecution, since intent, demonstrating a chain of accountability, has to be established.

Related concepts

Genocide is also called a crime against humanity, though the initial "definition" of that concept; established during the Nuremberg trials, was restricted to acts committed during wartime or directed against the peace and would therefore not have included all acts of genocide. As mentioned above, state-sponsored mass murder is sometimes equated with genocide. Democide has been suggested as a more precise term for this, but it is rarely used. Genocide is a common term referring to deliberate policies promoting mass killing. The term genocide also generally carries an ethnic connotation, though the delineation of ethnic groups is easier to frame as simply 'foreign' to the culprit party.

Cultural genocide refers to the deliberate destruction of a culture, without necessarily attaining to the full criteria of genocide. This term has been criticized as inflammatory; trying to reap political benefit from the accusation of genocide, as issues dealing with genocide are serious and severe.

Some alleged genocides in history

(Presented in approximate chronological order)

Determining what historical events constitute a genocide and which are merely criminal or inhuman behavior is not a clearcut matter. Furthermore, in nearly every case where accusations of genocide have circulated, partisans of various sides have fiercely disputed the interpretation and details of the event, often to the point of promoting wildly different versions of the facts. An accusation of genocide is certainly not taken lightly and will almost always be controversial. The following list of alleged genocides should be understood in this context and not regarded as the final word on these subjects.

Roman Empire

Many campaigns of the Roman Empire can by modern standards be rated as genocide:

Julius Caesar's campaign in Gaul: the war cost the lives of more than a million Gauls, and a million further were enslaved.

Caesar's campaign against the Helvetii: approximately 60% of the tribe was killed, and another 20% was taken into slavery.

Carthage: the city was completely destroyed, and its people murdered or enslaved.


(Albigensian Crusade 12091229) can be considered as a case of genocide. It was carried out against the Cathar people, militarily and by use of the Inquisition.

Wars of the Vendée: the revolutionary National Convention ordered a pacification of the province, with specific instructions to kill children and women of reproductive age.

North America

Genocide of Powhatans by London Virginia Company 16101622
Briton Lord Amherst approved spreading smallpox among Native Americans in present-day Canada intentionally during the Pontiac's Rebellion by distributing infected blankets.
See http://www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/amherst/lord_jeff.html.
Indian Removal resulted in the death of many thousands of Native Americans.
See Indian Massacres, Trail of Tears, Extermination of the Pequots in 1637.

The Congo

Genocide in the Congo Free State, prior to its being taken over by Belgium to form the Belgian Congo
Under the rule of King Leopold II, the Congo Free State suffered a great loss of life due to criminal indifference to its native inhabitants in the pursuit of increased rubber production.

Exploitation of the Dutch East Indies, French Indochina, German Southwest Africa, Rhodesia, and South Africa paled in comparison to that in what later became the Belgian Congo. The most infamous example of this is the Congo Free State.

King Leopold II (of Belgium) was a famed misanthropist, abolitionist, and self-appointed sovereign of the Congo Free State, 76 times larger geographically than Belgium itself.

His fortunes, and those of the multinational concessionary companies under his auspices, were mainly made on the proceeds of Congolese rubber, which had historically never been mass-produced in surplus quantities.

Between 1880 and 1920 the population of the Congo halved; over 10 million "indolent natives" unaccustomed to the bourgeois ethos of labor productivity, were the victims of murder, starvation, exhaustion induced by over-work, and disease.

Mass-murder or genocide in the Congo Free State became a cause celèbre in the last years of the 19th century, and a great embarrassment to not only the King but also to Belgium, which had portrayed itself as progressive and attentive to human rights.


Tasmania's Aboriginal population was almost entirely wiped out in the 19th century. At least some died at the hands of settlers, many died from disease inadvertently introduced by those settlers, and internal conflicts also occurred. The relative effects of those and other factors is a subject of strong historical and political debate, including whether they constituted genocide.

The removal of Aboriginal children from their families by the Australian government is considered by some to have constituted genocide, using the argument that it falls within the ambit of Art. 2(e) of the Genocide convention. There is also a converse argument that the removal of Aboriginal children was intended to protect, rather than exterminate them. See Stolen Generation and Keith Windschuttle.


The Great Hunger (also known as the 'Irish Potato Famine'): After an invasion by the Normans in 1169, the native population of Ireland had been oppressed under various laws and forced resettlement. The culmination of this oppression occurred between 1845–1850 when a disease struck the potato crop and many people starved to death. With very little relief effort made by Parliament, approximately one million Irish men women and children died of starvation and disease.

One and a half million more would be evicted by their landlords and forced to leave Ireland for Great Britain (mainly Liverpool, Glasgow, and London), the United States, Canada, and Australia. Conditions aboard the ships transporting poor Irishmen and women to new homes were horrendous: one quarter of all emigrants would die within a year of leaving Ireland. The Great Hunger resulted in the near destruction of the Irish language and the old Irish Aristocracy. Those who argue that the definition of genocide is inappropriate for the Great Hunger insist that this is because it did not amount to a deliberate policy of extermination on the part of the British government.

Between 1920 to 1921 Britan sent in the Black and Tans who where mostly thugs in uniform to quell the rising rebellion. The English language was forced in schools.


Genocide in the Highland Clearances: The Highland Clearances can be traced to the consequences of the failure of the Jacobite rebellion in the 18th Century. The revenge of the government dealt a huge blow to the culture of the Highland people and the traditional Clan system in the Highlands of Scotland subsequently broke up. After the Battle of Culloden in 1746 the chiefs were impoverished, the language of the people (Gaelic) was proscribed and the wearing of tartan was forbidden.
From about 1792, estate landlords, some absentee, in partnership with impoverished ex-clan chiefs, 'encouraged', sometimes forcibly, the population to move off the land, which was then given over to sheep farming. The people were accommodated in poor crofts or small farms in coastal areas where the farming or fishing could not sustain the communities, or directly put on emigration ships. Together with a failure of the potato crop in the 19th century, this policy resulted in starvation, deaths, and a secondary clearance, when Scots either migrated voluntarily or were forcibly evicted, many to emigrate, to join the British army, or to join the growing cities, like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, in Lowland Scotland. In many areas there were small and large scale massacres and violence towards the indigenous people.

As in the Australian example above, there are conflicting views about whether the process of change was genocide: there were social and historical factors at work, including the onset of industrialisation, development of a rational approach to economics, and moves to larger scale agriculture. The Clearances could be argued to be an inevitable collision between the economics of "improved" land use and an almost feudal way of life led by Gaelss who did not, for the most part, speak English.

Other people feel that what developed does meet the central definition of genocide (see Eric Richard The Highland Clearances Barlinn Books (2000), for an acknowledgement of both sides of this argument), involving the calculated destruction for economic as well as political reasons of groups leading a way of life which no longer "fitted in".

Highlanders were also seen as a threat to the established British Government, and there was already alarm about the French Revolution. In the context of centuries of resistance and intermittent intrusion from Scotland, some feel this was a further impetus to destroy the traditional way of life and to suppress any resistance to the changes that were taking place.

Boer Wars

in South Africa (18801881 and 18991902)

Boer (not Afrikaner) and other historians feel that the second war of the British Empire against the Boer (not Afrikaner) Republics of Transvaal and Orange Free State were a definite form of genocide: because the Boers protested English plans to annex their Boer Republics, they declared war against the British.
The English rounded up Boer civilians, placing them in concentration camps. Until the Boers surrendered in May 1902, at least 27,000 Boer (not Afrikaner) civilians had been killed. These figures are more accurately reflected as follows; 24,000 Boer Children, nearly half of the Boer child population had died. 3.000 Boer women also died.

German South-West Africa

in current-day Namibia (19041907)

In 1985, the United Nation's Whitaker Report recognized the German attempt to exterminate the Herero and Nama peoples of Southwest Africa as one of the earliest attempts at genocide in the twentieth century. In total, some 65,000 Herero (80 percent of the total Herero population), and 10,000 Nama (50 percent of the total Nama population) were killed or perished. Characteristic of this genocide was death by starvation and the poisoning of wells for the Herero and Nama populations that were trapped in the Namib desert. The responsible German general was Lothar von Trotha

Many historians have stressed the historic importance of these atrocities, tracing the evolution from Kaiser Wilhelm II to Hitler, from Southwest Africa to Auschwitz.


(19141923) genocides by the Young Turk government
Approximately 0.6–1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were killed [2] (some sources cite much higher figures). The Turkish government officially denies that there was any genocide, claiming that most of the Armenian deaths resulted from armed conflict, disease and famine during the turmoil of World War.

Approximately 300,000–600,000 Pontian Greeks in the Ottoman Empire were killed, and several hundred thousand others exiled. The Turkish government denies there was any genocide despite evidence to the contrary, instead blaming the wars with Greece which took place around the same time for the millions of deaths.

See also: Armenian Genocide, Hellenic Holocaust

Soviet Union

Ukrainians - Claims of 5 million civilians starved to death for refusing to cooperate with "collective farming" rules.
Some argue that genocide took the form of man-made famines in 1932-33, particularly in Ukraine. Collectivization led to a drop in the already low productivity of Russian farming, which did not regain the NEP level until 1940, or allowing for the further disasters of World War II, 1950. The dispute includes, if the collectivization was responsible for famine and the actual number of victims.

Soviets also targeted the following groups: Polish minority in Soviet Union, Crimean Tatars, Don Cossacks, Chechens, Volga Germans, Kalmyks, Meskhetians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Orthodox priests, kulaks, regardless nationality.

Some have claimed that Stalin was planning a purge of elite Jews following the so-called "Doctors' plot". These claims, though well publicized, have never been proven.

Note: Many historians dismiss reports of Soviet genocide, as in Ukraine, as anti-soviet propaganda. Some historians have argued that the millions of civilian killings done by the Soviet government should not be called "genocide" since the motivation for the murders is outside of the legal definition of genocide. No ethnic groups or classes, they argue, were targeted in particular. Sometimes the term politicide is instead used to describe targeted Soviet killings of particular ideological and political groups.

World War II


German Nazi genocide before and during World War II

(1933–1945). (See also Armenian quote.)

The Holocaust: approximately 11 million people were killed (figure is contested, see [1]) according to the Nazi racist ideology, as some ethnic groups were considered "sub-human". This includes:
ha-Shoah, ("the Catastrophe" in Hebrew), in which 6 million European Jews, including 1.5 million children, were systematically "exterminated" (the Nazi term) for being Jewish. See also Holocaust denial.

6 million Polish citizens (3 million of whom were counted as both Polish and Jew: see possibly Polish Jews).

Genocide also targeted Gypsies (see Porajmos) and Slavs.

7.5 million Soviet civilians and 3.2 million Soviet POWs. This number includes 2 million Soviet Jews mainly in the areas of former Eastern Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia proper, many of whom were killed by squads of Nazi collaborators formed among Ukrainians, Latvians, Russians and Lithuanians. The Jews of Eastern Poland were doubly counted also among victims in Poland.

The Nazis also killed other (non-ethnic) groups, such as those suffering from birth defects, learning disability or insanity; homosexuals, prostitutes and communists, as part of eugenics.

Allied genocide during WWII

Allies during WWII: 3 to 5 million German civilians killed, 10 to 15 million expelled from their homes.
Bombing of Dresden in World War II: allied bombers dropped 3.4 kilotons of incendiaries (napalm) on Dresden, specifically targeting a civilian population (the city was packed with refugees), and creating a firestorm which killed an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 civilians.

Bombing of Hamburg: one third of the city destroyed, 60,000 to 100,000 civilian deaths.

Allied bombers attacked known refugee bunkers in many western and eastern German cities, attempting to "demoralize" the Germans.

Attacks on German refugees during the World War II evacuation and expulsion
Refugee ships in the Baltic Sea were targeted by allied war ships and submarines and sunk, no survivors were rescued and rescue ships were also sunk. (Earlier in the War German ships had refused to rescue survivors of ships sunk by their submarines: Germans were tried for this at Nuremberg)

The dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in order to force a Japanese surrender (at a time when some Japanese were willing to negotiate a peace).

Alleged Soviet genocide during WWII

German POW: At least 1 million out of 5 million POWs died in prison camps

Prussian Holocaust: Soviet rape and murder bands attacked East Prussia, raping and killing women and killing all men. Survivors trudged in great columns through the snow at -25°C, fleeing through the blizzards and shell fire. The German population of East Prussia was systematically eliminated.

Convoys of German refugees running for their lives from East Prussia, Silesia, Pomerania, eastern Brandenburg and other eastern German lands were targeted by bombers and attack airplanes.

Japanese genocide during WWII

Japanese genocide before and during World War II (1920s1945)

Nanjing Massacre: Some authorities claimed 300,000 people killed during the three months following the fall of Nanjing to the Japanese. Genocide targeted at Chinese at other places of China: Manchuria, the Wan Bao Hill Incident, Xiangyang, and the Rape of Nanking.

Unit 731 conducted biological and chemical warfare experiments on living humans.

Sook Ching Massacre: When British Malaya fell to the Japanese Imperial Forces in February 1942, ethnic Chinese in Singapore were systematically exterminated on the pretext of eliminating "anti-Japanese" elements. The death toll range from 5000 to 100000.

Smaller scale Genocide also targeted at Koreans, Filipinos, Dutch, Vietnamese, Indonesians and Burmese.

People's Republic of China

Some political groups, such as the Free Tibet movement, have claimed that the government of the People's Republic of China has committed genocide by killing members of several minority ethnic groups, including Uighurs, Tibetans and others during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Most scholars argue that this is not a case of genocide but simple famine, because while minority ethnic groups died, so did members of the majority Han Chinese, and at no time has the PRC government undertaken policies specifically to kill minority groups. Famine has been a cyclical, recurring phenomenon in Chinese history for thousands of years. The PRC states that these charges help to indoctrinate impressionable youths in the Free Tibet movement and other groups with anti-China agendas.


In 1961, Indonesia invaded West Papua with the assistance of the USA. Its continuing subjugation of that nation has involved the deaths of hundreds of thousands civilians, the extinction of unique cultures and languages, and the government transmigration of over 1.2 million Javanese into West Papua while under a military occupation. This does not violate the Fourth Geneva Convention as Indonesia is not a signatory to these conventions.

In 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor with the quiet approval of the USA, and its subjugation of that nation involved the deaths of thousands of civilians which has been estimated to be, in proportionate numbers, worse than the killings committed by the contemporary Khmer Rouge Regime in Cambodia.


The killing of thousands of political and social activists began with the USA-supported destabilization of the democratic government of Marxist Salvador Allende, and the military coup d'état by Augusto Pinochet.
Chile was part of Operación Cóndor, which coordinated the killings in Argentina, Uruguay and other countries of South America.


Killed approximately 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975-1979.
The Khmer Rouge, or more formally, the Communist Party of Kampuchea, led by Pol Pot, Ta Mok, Duch and other leaders, organized the mass killing of ideologically suspect groups, ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Chinese or Sino-Khmers, ethnic Chams, ethnic Thais, former civil servants, demobilized soldiers, Buddhist monks, secular intellectuals and professionals, and refugees. Khmer Rouge cadres defeated in factional struggles were also liquidated in purges.

See also: Democratic Kampuchea


The military dictatorship led by Jorge Rafael Videla and others killed or made disappear around 6,000 people. Many of these were political and social activists, union leaders, or common people that just did not agree with the military government. All were accused of being terrorists. They did not have fair process and could not defend themselves. Many of the desaparecidos ended in illegal detention camps like the ESMA, the Navy's School of Mechanics, which has been turned into a museum by Argentine president Néstor Kirchner in 2004.
Moreover, the militaries had a plan for changing the identity of those babies that were born in captivity. Instead of being returned to their families, these babies were given in illegal adoption to families in the armed forces and the police.
Videla and other militaries were condemned to life-time prison by Argentine justice, but later were pardoned by Argentine president Carlos Saúl Menem. Now they are in custody while they are being judged for the illegal adoptions plan.

Sources: The Vanished Gallery: The Desaparecidos of Argentina


1982 - Mayan villages


1983 - present (... as of 2004)
The US government's Sudan Peace Act of October 21, 2002 accused Sudan of genocide for killing more than 2 million civilians in the south during an ongoing civil war since 1983. Organised campaign by Janjaweed militias (nomadic Arab shepherds with the support of Sudanese government and troops) to rid 80 black African tribes from the Darfur region of western Sudan. Mukesh Kapila (United Nations humanitarian coordinator) is quoted as saying: "The vicious war in Darfur has led to violations on a scale comparable in character with Rwanda in 1994. All the warning signs are there."


Anfal campaign against Iran-aligned Kurdish populations - ethnic cleansing, and in cases bordering on genocide. Chemical weapons attacks on Kurds 1986-88 (Saddam Hussein's forces used Sarin to kill the population of a Kurd village. See Halabja poison gas attack for a full discussion) and on Iranians.
Attacks on rival ethnic groups in the South (Sunni Muslims) and North (Kurds) of Iraq after the Desert Storm war. These attacks involved allegedly deliberate destruction of the living habitats of these peoples, e.g. through over drainage of the southern wetlands.
Sadam Hussein, the alleged perpetrator, has been charged in 2004 with crimes of genocide by the newly constituted government of the country.


Organized ethnic cleansing carried out by Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks throughout the period.
More than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred in Srebrenica in July 1995. See also History of Bosnia and Herzegovina.


(April 1994)
Officially 937,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutus. See History of Rwanda.


(February–March 2002)
About 800 or more than 2000 people (views differ on the numbers of victims), mostly Muslims, were killed throughout Gujarat, a state in India, during the 2002 Gujarat violence. This is considered by some people to satisfy the international legal definition of genocide, with the Sangh Parivar considered responsible for the systematic nature of the killings, while others consider the killings to have been spontaneous and uncontrolled.


[1] Figures from controversial book by
R. J. Rummel, "Death by Government".
[2] Figure from Encyclopædia Britannica

Further reading

External links