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"A single death is a tragedy,
a million deaths is a statistic"

Herero Rising / Genocide 1904 1905 80,000 Namibia
Armenian Massacre 1915 1915 1,000,000 Turkey
Pontus "Genocide" 1915 1915 ??? 000 Turkey
Poland - Slav 1939 1945 3,000,000 Poland
The Holocaust - Jew 1941 1945 6,000,000 Europe
The Porrajmos - Roma 1941 1945 500,000 Europe
Bosnia 1993 1994 300,000 Former Yugoslavia
Civil War 1994 1994 750,000 Rwanda
Darfur 2003 2009? 300,000 Sudan
Yazidis 2014 2018 ?? Iraq
Uighur 2017 ongoing ?? China
Rohingya 2017 ongoing ?? Myanmar
Collectivization 1930 1937 9,500,000 USSR [less Ukraiane]
Year Zero / Killing Fields 1975 1979? 2,000,000 Cambodia
The Great Terror 1937 1939 500,000 USSR
Military Purges 1937 1941 ,000,000 USSR
Deportations 1943 1945 ,000,000 USSR

Since the beginning of recorded history, and, it may be assumed, even before events were recorded, men, women and children have suffered mistreatment and death at the hands of their fellow human beings. The perpetrators and the victims have been found among all races, all nations, and all religions. It appears that human beings have always been warring creatures, taking up arms in the name of tribe, in the name of country and even in the name of religion. When humans began to record history, much of the writing centered on war. The horrors of war were highlighted even then. Remarkable advances in knowledge and technology have not much improved the ability to live together peaceably. In fact, humanity continues to develop new and more powerful technologies for death and destruction. Contemporary cases of "man's inhumanity to man," the violation of human rights, are actually on the rise.

Genocide is the denial to groups of the right to live and the deliberate destruction of racial, ethnic, national, or religious groups. Not all mass murders of civilians meet the standard definition of genocide. At some point in the past, the wholesale slaughter of non-combatant populations was simply business as usual, and a list of such events would simply replicate a list of wars of olden times. Rome created a desert, and called it peace. Probably only within the past several centuries has such conduct become widely regarded as reprehensible, as opposed to merely horrific.

Even today, not all mass mortality events, regardless of their scale, would meet the standards of the definition of genocide. The Great Leap Forward in China produced the world's largest famine: between the spring of 1959 and the end of 1961 some 30 million Chinese starved to death and about the same number of births were lost or postponed. The famine ranked alongside the two world wars as a prime example public manmade death. But the 30 to 60 million deaths associated with the Great Leap Foward resulted from a policy failure, not a policy, and certainly not a policy seeking the destruction of some particular group. The mass killing the Cambodia was a deliberate act of state policy, but it sought the destruction of those thought to be enemies of the regime, not some particular racial, ethnic, national, or religious group in Cambodia.

Although genocide has inflicted great suffering on humanity throughout history, its existence as a general crime was not evident until the twentieth century. The wholesale massacre of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923 was denounced as a"crime against civilization" by the world community, which had begun to recognize genocide as an offense against humanity as well as against the target group.

The term "genocide," which did not exist before 1944, is a very specific term, referring to massive crimes committed against groups. Human rights, as laid out in the U.S. Bill of Rights or the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, concern the rights of individuals.

In 1944, a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) sought to describe Nazi policies of systematic murder, including the destruction of European Jewry. He formed the word "genocide" by combining geno-, from the Greek word for race or tribe, with -cide, from the Latin word for killing. In proposing this new term, Lemkin had in mind "a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves." The next year, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg charged top Nazis with "crimes against humanity." The word "genocide" was included in the indictment, but as a descriptive, not legal, term.

On December 9, 1948, in the shadow of the Holocaust and in no small part due to the tireless efforts of Lemkin himself, the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This convention establishes "genocide" as an international crime, which signatory nations "undertake to prevent and punish." It defines genocide as:

[G]enocide means 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.

Because genocide by this definition involves the question of intent as well as the act of destruction, its applicability in given situations is sometimes subject to controversy: however, acts that may lack the deliberate attempt to destroy a group as such may still constitute gross human rights violations that are no less horrible in their consequences. In his book Rwanda and Genocide in the Twentieth Century (1995), Alain Destexhe wrote, "The specificity of genocide does not arise from the extent of the killings, nor their savagery or resulting infamy, but solely from the intention: the destruction of a group." That destruction which is a collective act, not a series of individual incidents, requires intention as well as careful and detailed organization.

Participants in South African educator workshops focusing on teaching the Holocaust and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda frequently declare that apartheid was also genocide. These comments seem like a cry to recognize that South Africa's past of human-rights abuses and pain also deserves a definition, and genocide seems to be the desired title of ultimate suffering.

Historical models postulate that genocide cannot occur without the ideology and decisions of its authoritarian perpetrators and the indifference of bystanders. These models do not address genocidal risks from ecocide. Malthusian pressures and zero-sum rivalries over water, arable land, or natural resources by themselves do not lead to genocide. Such pressures may have exacerbated the political and socioeconomic predictors in Rwanda and Darfur, but not in former Yugoslavia. However, collapse of socioeconomic and governmental infrastructures following genocide can leave behind massive sustained damage to carrying capacity and sustainability. Surviving victims, if they return to their environments, will remain at risk for persecution. Ecocide--the large-scale destruction, depletion, or contamination of natural ecosystems -- can result in widespread damage to health, survival, fertility, reproduction, and sustenance, and forced flight.

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Page last modified: 05-01-2022 15:43:12 ZULU