What are the 10 Stages of Genocide?

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The term genocide was first used in 1941 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish lawyer who escaped to the US from the Nazi occupation of Poland. Lemkin used the term to describe crimes committed by Nazi Germany against Jews during the Second World War; however, the term genocide came into its full use only after the Second World War when the full extent of the atrocities committed against Jews was put on the international agenda.

In 1948, the UN adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defined genocide as ‘’any number of acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’’. The act of genocide was declared to be an international crime, with the term later to be applied before the international criminal tribunals for war crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rwanda during the 1990s.

However, the questions ‘’how genocide happens?’’ and ‘’how to prevent genocide?’’  have never been fully answered. There have been many attempts by scholars and researchers to answer these questions, but certainly the most significant and valued analysis so far has been done by Gregory H. Stanton, the founding President of the Genocide Watch. Therefore, this article provides an overview and detailed description of Stanton’s ten stages of genocide.

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  1. Classification

According to Stanton, the first stage of genocide is classification during which distinction of people is made into ‘’us and them’’, based on ethnicity, race, religion or nationality. For example, there was a distinction between Germans and Jews in Europe, and Hutu and Tutsi tribes in Rwanda. However, Stanton argues that occurrence of this stage can be prevented by developing universalistic institutions that transcend racial and ethnic division of people and promote understanding and tolerance. For example, these types of institutions could have been deployed by the Catholic church in Rwanda during 1990s, or promotion of a common language in countries, such as Tanzania. Stanton argues this approach is vital to early prevention of genocide. Learn about the Holocaust in this free online courses:

  1. Symbolization

Symbolization has always been a common denominator for classification. Usually during this stage symbols are forced on a group of people, such as yellow stars for Jews during the Second World War or white clothes that Muslims were forced to wear in one part of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war. According to Stanton, this can be legally prevented by forbidding symbols or group marking. However, the issue arises when these legal limitations are not supported by popular cultural enforcement. In case they are widely supported denial of symbolization can be powerful in preventing genocide. For example, this was the case when the Bulgarian government refused to supply yellow badges for Jews during World War II, resulting in 80 per cent Jews not wearing them, and in that way Nazi symbol for Jews was stripped of its significance.

  1. Discrimination

During this third stage of genocide, a dominant group uses its political power, rights, law and custom to deny the rights of another group. It usually strips them off their voting rights, civil rights, and, in some cases, even citizenship, such as was the case in in Nazi Germany when Jews were stripped of their German citizenship. The dominant group in this stage follows an ideology that monopolizes and expands its power and legitimizes the victimizations of weaker groups. Leaders of dominant groups who pursue these types of exclusionary ideologies are charismatic and able to attract support from the masses. To prevent discrimination from occurring all citizens should enjoy their rights and be politically empowered, as well as to be given a right to sue the state and other actors if their rights are violated. Finally, discrimination based on nationality, ethnicity, religion or race should be made illegal.

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  1. Dehumanization

Dehumanization happens when one group strips off the humanity of the other group, and often equates them with diseases, animals and insects. During this stage, hate speech, fake news and propaganda in print and radios plays a crucial role in dehumanizing a particular group. To prevent this, local and international leaders should make the hate speech culturally unacceptable, and those leaders who encourage genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen. Additionally, hate propaganda should be totally banned and hate media should be shut down, while those who commit hate crimes and atrocities should be held accountable.

  1. Organization

According to Stanton, genocide is usually organized by the states that often use militias to deny their responsibility. However, organization of genocide sometimes are informal or decentralized, such as genocides committed by terrorist groups. During this stage, army units and militias are armed and trained and plans for execution of genocide are made. To prevent this stage, membership in these armies and militias should be illegal and their commanders should be forbidden to travel to foreign countries. The UN should have a responsibility to impose embargoes on armies on those countries that are involved in committing a genocide, as well as to create commissions to investigate crimes committed, as was done in Rwanda and in countries of the former Yugoslavia. Learn more about Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in this free courses:

  1. Polarization

During the stage of polarization extremists drive the groups apart and broadcast polarizing propaganda. The state adopts the laws that forbid intermarriage and social interaction between groups and intimidates moderate people, who are most likely to stop the genocide and are often the first ones to be arrested and killed. Stanton suggests that polarization can be prevented by providing security protection to moderate leaders or assisting human rights groups. Also, extremists should be denied international travel visas and international sanctions should be enforced on them.

  1. Preparation

During the seventh stage, perpetrators make plans for genocidal killings and during this they often use euphemisms to hide their real intentions and refer to their goals as ‘’ethnic cleansing, purification or counter-terrorism’’. They build and train armies and militias and buy weapons. They also indoctrinate fear from the victim group into the rest of the population and often do this by claiming ‘’if we do not kill them, they will kill us’ and through the hate propaganda’. They also disguise genocide as self-defense or as counter-strike if there already an ongoing conflict. What also can trigger genocide are the political processes such as peace agreements of elections, that may strip the dominant group off their power. This can be prevented by imposing arms embargoes, as well as prosecution of incitement and conspiracy to commit genocide, which are both recognized as crimes under Article 3 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

  1. Persecution

In the persecution stage, victims are separated out and identified based on their religious or ethnic identity. They are forced to wear symbols, and usually their property is forcibly taken. Perpetrators segregate victims into ghettos, detain them in concentration camps, confine them to a famine-struck region and draw up death lists. Stunton suggest that during this stage, a genocide emergency must be declared, and great political powers or the UN Security Council can prepare and mobilize international intervention to prevent the genocide. Additionally, victim groups should be assisted to prepare for self-defense. Lastly, Stanton argues that at least the UN and relief groups should organize humanitarian assistance for the tide of refugees to come.

  1. Extermination

Extermination is what Stanton calls ‘’the mass killing legally called genocide’’. For him, it is ‘’extermination’’ to the killers because they do not see their victims as human beings. Killings are often sponsored by states which often work with armies and militias; however, genocide sometimes results in revenge killings by one group against other. During this stage, only rapid armed intervention can stop genocide and safe areas, as well as refugee escape routes, should be established and followed by armed international protection. If genocide is of a smaller scale, the UN Security Council can authorize the UN Standing High Readiness Brigade, EU Rapid Response Force, or regional forces to act. However, in larger scale killings the UN should authorize an intervention of a multilateral force. In cases in which the UN is paralyzed to act, the responsibility lays on regional alliances. Stanton argues that ‘’it is time to recognize that the international responsibility to protect transcends the narrow interests of individual nation states’. If powerful states do not provide troops to intervene directly, they should, at least, provide equipment and financial means necessary for regional states to intervene.

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  1. Denial

Denial is a last stage that always follows a genocide and it is among the firmest indicators of future genocidal massacres. The perpetrators burn the bodies, dig up the mass graves, intimidate witnesses and try to hide evidence. They also deny they committed any crimes and blame the victims themselves for what happened. They also interfere in crime investigations and often stay to rule until they are driven from power by force and try to flee into exile where they stay with impunity, unless arrested and tried before the tribunal. Denial can be prevented through punishment by national courts or an international criminal tribunal. Examples of this are International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

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About Author

Ada Hasanagić is a human rights professional currently working as a researcher at the Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Previously, Ada graduated with honors from the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology and the University of Buckingham in the fields of Political Science and International Relations. Also, she earned a master’s degree in Democracy and Human Rights from the University of Sarajevo and University of Bologna.

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