May 2, 2008

On Genocides: Introduction

Posted in English at 5:59 pm by Rou...

Defined as “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of national, ethnic, racial, religious, political, or cultural group”, the term genocide tends to evoke thoughts of the Holocaust of WWII; the most egregious and well-known example of the mass killing of people based on their ethnic or religious background. Even though the extermination of Jews during the Nazi regime has been ingrained in the world’s memory, but it is not the only case of genocide, nor even the worst. The Irish, Armenians, Chechens, Bosnian Muslims have all suffered from similar human devastation. In Africa, the slaughter of the Tutsi minority by the Hutu majority in Rwanda has not been forgotten, 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.

 

But what is the difference between Genocide, Extermination, and Ethnic Cleansing?

 

As homicide is the murder of a person, genocide is the murder of an ethnicity or the extinction of any human group sharing a genetic or ancestral affinity. Provided that it has the intentional destruction, the acts that results in Genocides are; killing members of a 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.

 

The phrase “ethnic cleansing” however may embody a much more immense meaning. Ethnic cleansing has been defined as “the elimination of an unwanted group from society, as by genocide or forced migration”. This definition is inherently broader than that of genocide alone, and thereby encompasses mass killings and forced removals in far greater number and scope. Ethnic cleansing, then, may involve death or displacement, or any combination thereof, where a population is identified for removal from an area.

 

While the term Extermination is similar to the term Genocide in its definition which is “the act of killing or murdering with the intention of eradicating demographics within a population”, but when applied to humans, the term genocide is more often used.

 

However, while genocide and extermination are categorized in international criminal law as crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing is not. It is unlikely that such a broad and often used term could gain the support to declare ethnic cleansing, as a whole, as a crime against humanity. By and large, “Crimes against humanity” include acts that are aimed at any civilian population such as: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, systematic rape and other forms of sexual assault; including enforced prostitution, persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds, and other inhuman acts.

 

However, in order to differentiate genocide from other crimes against humanity, it is essential to establish an intention to destroy a certain group. In specific circumstances, other relevant elements should be taken into consideration in analyzing the intent. These elements could be: a profile of the population killed (sex, age, social position, specific categories, level of education, etc.), characteristics of individual crimes committed (brutality, cruelty, humiliation, etc.), the systematic nature of certain crimes (rape, destruction of property and objects necessary for survival of population, destruction of places of worship, prevention of delivery of humanitarian aid, etc.).

 

What remains unclear is the question of when institutionalized killing rises to the level of ethnic cleansing, or genocide. The answer depends on whether events are seen through the eyes of victims or perpetrators. More important is whether the international community recognizes genocide and whether it is prepared to act to stop it.

 

 

Rou…

 

 

References:

Many Internet citations remarkably of which:

http://www.munfw.org/archive/50th/4th1.htm

http://www.ejil.org/journal/Vol5/No3/art3-03.html

http://www.preventgenocide.org/genocide/officialtext.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extermination

 

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