Genocide is a term which refers to any attempt to systematically destroy all or part of a specific racial, ethnic, religious or national grouping. Whilst scholars have been debating the definition of genocide for a number of years, a formally codified definition was developed for the “1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”. This definition defines genocide as follows:
“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: 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; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”.
Although this definition is the one which is most widely referenced by people who are discussing genocide, some academics raise questions about it, because it fails to include mass killings based on political affiliation, class, sexuality, gender or any other group of people who may be destroyed due to their identification with that characteristic. Because the word “genocide” is technically derived from the Greek word genos (meaning race) and the Latin cïdere (meaning to kill), these other concepts and characteristics are often excluded when discussing genocide and killings based on these concepts may be given other names (such as politicide, democide and gendercide.) However, as these alternative terms are less widely used and are themselves widely debated, many different types of mass killings are still considered to be genocides. Here are a few examples of events which can be considered to be genocides.
During World War II, the leaders of Nazi Germany developed a programme to systematically exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe. Of approximately 9 million Jewish people residing in Europe pre-1939, around two-thirds were massacred during the Holocaust. As well as setting up extermination camps with the specific purpose of killing large numbers of people at a time, Death Squads were also responsible for mass public killings of Jewish citizens. These citizens were often rounded up, taken to a specific area and then killed. Millions of Jewish people were also forced out of their homes and into concentration camps where they were made to work until they died. Although the term Holocaust is usually used to specifically refer to the killing of the Jewish population, large numbers of Romani (gypsies), Jehovah’s Witnesses, disabled people and homosexuals were also killed by the Nazis during this period. Members of the political opposition were also systematically destroyed by the Nazi party.
Between 1975 and 1979, around 3 million people were killed in Cambodia by the ruling regime, led by communist revolutionary Pol Pot. In his quest to create an agrarian society, Pol Pot ordered the systematic killing of the elite classes of Cambodia, including the majority of educated groups, such as students, lawyers, doctors and journalists. Some people were even executed just because they wore glasses, which were believed to be a sign of education and wealth. The majority of the urban population of Cambodia were forced out of their homes and ordered to attend “re-education” camps in the countryside, where they were indoctrinated with the beliefs of the government and made to work the fields for hours each day. Thousands of people died in these camps from malnutrition and overwork. Some scholars do not consider the events in Cambodia to be a true genocide, as the majority of the killings were not based on race or nationality, and therefore some people use the term “autogenocide” to distinguish that it was the killing of citizens by their own government, rather than the killing of a specific race or minority grouping.
For approximately 100 days in 1994, around 1 million ethnic Tutsi Rwandans were killed by the Hutu majority, at the behest of the government. National ID cards in Rwanda at the time included a statement of ethnicity, and therefore checkpoints were set up at all major thoroughfares to check IDs to prevent Tutsis from escaping. Ordinary citizens were prompted to take up arms against their former friends or neighbours, and many people were told that if they did not join in the slaughter, they would also be killed. Many Hutus who “sympathised” with the Tutsi minority or had married outside of their ethnic group were killed. As well as mass killing, rapes and sexual mutilation were also used as a weapon against the Tutsi people. The government of Rwanda are now attempting to promote reconciliation and forgiveness between the two ethnic groups, because many of those involved with the massacre still live side-by-side with the families of their victims.
In 1915, Ottoman authorities began rounding up Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. These events were closely followed by attempts to expel all ethnic Armenian citizens from their homes throughout the area. Whilst many of the able-bodied men were slaughtered immediately, the women, children and elderly people were forced to march hundreds of miles in an attempt to forcibly transfer them to different areas. Many people died of malnourishment or exhaustion on these gruelling marches. Although modern-day Turkey still refuses to accept that this incident should be classified as genocide, at least 21 countries now recognise it as such.
Mass expulsions and killings of Bosnian civilians by the Serbian army took place during the 1992 – 1995 Bosnian War. The campaign of ethnic cleansing also included unlawful imprisonment, sexual assault, robbery, rape and torture. In one of the most brutal events of the period of genocide, over 8000 Bosnian men and boys were killed in just a just a few days, in the Srebrenica area, and over 25,000 women, children and elderly people were forcibly transferred away from their homes. Many women were also raped and mutilated by the Serbian forces as parted of this population transfer scheme. International peacekeeping forces have been criticised for not doing enough to prevent these massacres, despite their close proximity to the events.