Genocide is the intentional mass killing of a group, usually involving civilians, women, children and innocent people on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity or social economic status. Although the term was coined in the post-WWII era, the spirit of the term existed prior to the beginning of 20th century. The definitions of genocides were introduced in the Geneva Conference of 1864 and the Hague Convention of 1899. As such, many pre-Holocaust conflicts were considered to be genocide.
In 1944, a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin coined the term Genocide to describe Nazi policies of systematic murder, including the destruction of the European Jews. He formed the word “genocide” by mixing the word geno-, from the Greek word for race or tribe, with –cide, from the Latin word for killing. The following year, the International Military Tribunal held in Nuremberg, Germany,charged top Nazis with crimes against humanity. The word “genocide” was included in the charges, but as a descriptive and not legal, term.
This article provides an overview of 10 state sponsored genocides,which have defined history in the modern and contemporary eras.
1. Genocide of people of Congo
The colonial administration of King Leopold II of Belgium was one of forced labour, mass murder and torture. Estimated range of victims was about 30 million, starting from 1885 and continuing into 20th century. The population of Congo declined from about 30 million to under 9 million during this time of atrocity.
Civilians in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo remain victims of mass killings to this day. The Congonese are still being severe torture and raped at the hands of numerous armed groups operating in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Orientale. Conflict in the DR Congo has resulted in an estimated 5.4 million civilian deaths since 1996.
Every hour, approximately 48 Congolese women are being raped. An estimated 2 million women have been victims of rape. Other gender-based violence can be directly associated with the civil war that is still ongoing in the region.
2. Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1939-1945)
During World War II, United States, conducted atomic bombing against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During the first 2-4 months, the acute affects killed 90000-166000 in Hiroshima and 60000-80000 in Nagasaki. During the following months large numbers died from burns, radiation sickness and other injuries. Since then more have died due to Leukemia and Cancer.
3. The Nazi Holocaust (1932-33)
Approximately six million European Jews, ethnic Poles, Romani, POWs and Soviet civilians were killed during World War II under a program of state-sponsored extermination by Nazi Germany. Hitler established concentration camps at places such as Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor in which women, children and old people were executed and other inmates were used for slave labour, until they died of exhaustion and disease. The toll is estimated to be at 11 million to 17 million people.
Jews were not the only targets of Nazi extermination policies as the first paragraph suggests. The Nazis also targeted Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists, twins, and the disabled. Zyklon B was first tested on the disabled in sanitariums before it was used in extermination caps. Some of these people tried to hide from the Nazis, like Anne Frank and her family. A few were successful, but most were not. Those that were captured suffered sterilization, forced abandonment, separation from family and friends, beatings, torture, starvation, and worse of all death.
In the wake of the Holocaust, many survivors found shelter in displaced persons camps that were administered by the Allied powers, sometimes on concentration camp grounds. Between 1948 and 1951, almost 700,000 Jews emigrated to Israel, including 136,000 Jewish displaced persons from Europe. Other Jewish left for the United States, Canada, Australia and other nations. The last DP camp was closed in 1957. The crimes committed during the Holocaust devastated most European Jewish communities and eliminated hundreds of Jewish communities in occupied Europe countries entirely.
4. Ukrainian Famine
Known as “Holodomor (murder by hunger)”, it was a famine in the Ukrainian SSR from 1932-33 during which millions of people starved to death as a result of the trade and economic policies of Joseph Stalin. It was the largest peace time catastrophe in the history of Ukraine. Estimates of the number of casualties ranged from 2.6 million to 10 million.
5. Bengal Famine of 1943
3 million people died from starvation and malnutrition due to this man-made famine. The British army stored all grains in anticipation of Japanese invasion and exported food to allied forces in middle-east and Europe while the local people starved to death.
In doing this, the British brought on a cold and insensitive economic agenda to India. Economic exploitation damaged the indigenous Indian economy and resulted in a decline in the standard of living and quality of life. The British unwillingness to respond with urgency and vigor to food deficits caused there to be about 2 dozen appalling famines in the British occupation of India.
These famines swept away tens of millions of people. It was one of the worst famines to be recorded since 1770, killing approximately 10 million people in Bengal (one third of the population) and which was exacerbated by the rapacity of the East India Company [1-3,10].
6. Armenian Genocide (April 24,1915)
It was a deliberate and systematic extermination of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire during and just after World War I. The Armenians were forced to march hundreds of miles without food and water to the Syrian Desert. 1 million – 1.5 million died due to starvation, sickness and disease.
7. Darfur Genocide (2003-):
The Darfur Genocide took place in response to uprisings against Arab led government in Darfur. Most of the genocide acts were conducted by Janjaweed, who were hired by the government in Sudan to deal with DLF, SLM and JEM Movements. The whole conflict began in 2003 when DLF’ SLM and JEM resisted the government and accused the latter for being unfair to non-Arabs. Many resistance movements resorted to violence to solve their problem, which got them into the situation.
8. Asian Holocaust (1930s-1945)
There were several crimes against humanity committed under Hirohito between early 1930s and 1945. Countries affected by the crimes hold the Japanese Imperial Family, military forces and the Imperial Japanese army responsible. Japan, throughout the 1930s and 1940s attempted to annihilate its threats and enemies in their hope to acquire living space in the Pacific region. Many Japanese commanders and personnel were tried and convicted between 1946 and 1951. The two most notable incidents during the Asian Holocaust were: Nanjing, China (1937-‘38) and the Manila, Phillipines massacre where 100,000 civilians were murdered.
9. Greek Genocide (1914-1923)
Under the Ottoman Empire rule, Greeks were persecuted, jailed, massacred and expelled. Many of them were forced to go through death marches as well. Those who could not withstand the conditions were killed or died. 100,000 Ottoman Greeks lost their lives. In 2001, Greeks passed a decree which held Turkey responsible for genocide. Turkey has since denied the claim.
10. Herero and Namaqua Genocide (1904-1907):
Before Hitler came to power, there was Lothar von Trotha. von Trotha was the German commander sent to deal with the uprisings in the German colony Southwest Africa. His policies were known to be harsh against rebellious native in Southwest Africa. In 1904 von Trotha introduced the Annihilation Proclamation of 1904 to eliminate his problem and drove two nations into a desert where they starved to death. Those who survived were sent to work in concentration camps. Approximately 100,000 natives were murdered.
Von Trotha`s intention were known, especially in his letter to Germany before Waterberg. His solution quoted below illustrates an example of a deliberately planned genocide:
“I believe that the nation as such should be annihilated, or, if this was not possible by tactical measures, have to be expelled from the country…This will be possible if the water-holes from Grootfontein to Gobabis are occupied. The constant movement of our troops will enable us to find the small groups of nation who have moved backwards and destroy them gradually.”
Mahmood Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2001, p. 12