Genocide means the systematic extermination of people based on differences in nationality , race , religion and, mainly, ethnicity . It is the practice that aims to eliminate ethnic minorities in a given region.
The word genocide is derived from the Greek ” genos ” meaning “race”, “tribe” or “nation” and the Latin root term “-cida “ , meaning “to kill”.
The term was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew and jurist, who was an adviser to the United States War Department during World War II.
The attempt at total extermination of the Jewish people by the Nazis (Holocaust) was the reason that led Lemkin to fight for laws that punished the practice of genocide. The word came into use after 1944.
Genocide consists of the intention to totally or partially eliminate a group or community with the same ethnic, racial, religious or social characteristics.
Also considered genocidal practices are: serious attacks on the physical or psychological integrity of members of this group; forcing these people to live in inhumane conditions that could lead to their death; forced transition of children from that community to another group.
Genocide is often initiated thanks to feelings of racism and xenophobia . In December 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) defined measures to prevent and repress the crime of genocide through Resolution 260 A (III).
Origin of the term
The word genocide is a modern creation to refer to the atrocities committed in events such as the Holocaust. It emerged in the 1940s and was proposed by a Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin . Lemkin’s proposal was precisely to name the actions of the Nazis against the Jews during the Holocaust. Nevertheless, the word can be used for any type of genocide committed throughout human history.
Lemkin proposed this word in a book, written by him, completed in 1943 and published in 1944, called Axis rule in occupied Europe . Lemkin’s thesis shows that the Nazis used the genocide of minorities, such as Jews and Gypsies, to achieve the goals stipulated in Nazi ideology .
The word genocide is the result of the combination of two terms, one from the Greek language, and the other from Latin. Lemkin used genos , a Greek word meaning “race”, and cide , a Latin word meaning “to kill”. Genos and cide therefore gave rise to genocide. The idea of the expression deals with actions carried out with the aim of exterminating a group of people.
Therefore, genocide does not refer to the elimination of individuals as such only. The word refers to the elimination of individuals who are part of a group , and their elimination aims at the end of the group itself. The criteria for a genocide can be based on religion, ethnicity, race, culture and nationality.
What does the UN say about genocide?
Conventions such as Human Rights and the current understanding of genocide are post- World War II achievements . The horrors of the Holocaust shocked the world in such a way that a series of actions were taken in order to prevent this type of event from happening again.
The emergence of the United Nations , the UN, took place at the end of 1945, and, through it, measures were taken in defense of peace. In the case of genocide, a General Assembly held on December 9, 1948, issued Resolution 260 A (III), known as the “ Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide ”.
Through this document, it was defined that genocide is a crime against humanity. He also defined the means by which such practice is carried out, which are:
- Murder of group members;
- Serious attack on the physical and mental integrity of members of the group;
- Deliberate submission of the group to conditions of existence that will lead to its physical, total or partial destruction;
- Measures aimed at preventing births within the group;
- Forced transfer of children from the group to another group.
Finally, it was defined in that document that those who carry out genocidal practices must be judged, either by courts set up by sovereign States, or by international courts, as the case may be . At the time, of the 188 members of the UN, 100 ratified this convention.
Examples of genocide
Mao’s Great Famine
A succession of factors imposed by the Chinese communist government led by the dictator Mao Tse-Tung resulted in the death by starvation (in addition to death by government soldiers and torturers) of more than 40 million people in a span of just over 18 years.
The Great Leap , which was intended to make China a greater power than England, was a social, political, and economic disaster. Food security, guaranteed until then by agricultural development (which was shaken), resulted in the first major famine.
With the advance of time and the plan of the Cultural Revolution , the misery became accentuated and the police and the army started to exert great repression on the population, acting against it in a dictatorial way.
The Jewish Holocaust – Shoah
Adolf Hitler was the totalitarian leader of a movement known as Nazism . It is known that during the 12 years the Nazis were in power , there was systematic persecution, mainly of Jews, but also of other ethnic and religious minorities , such as gypsies, blacks, Jehovah’s Witnesses, in addition to the persecution of homosexuals.
Persecution of such groups hardened from 1933 to 1936, until the Nazis began imprisoning Jews in concentration camps . The expansionist drive of Hitler’s Reich led to territorial domination, and Jews from other locations invaded by Nazi Germany, such as Poland, were also captured (incidentally, the largest and deadliest concentration camp, Auschwitz, was built on Polish territory). .
By this time, many people had already been killed by members of the army, the Nazi police (the SS) and by concentration camp leaders. In 1941, with a certain decline in Hitler’s popularity due to the worsening economic crisis in Germany and due to the overcrowding of concentration camps, a plan prepared by Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler (two high-ranking officials of the Nazi government), called Final Solution, was authorized in 1941 by Minister Hermann Göring and put into practice in 1942.
The plan was to keep fit-for-work prisoners (men between the ages of 15 and 50) in the camps to work them to death from exhaustion and starvation . Many died from diseases and infections they contracted locally. Disease survivors were forced to work more than 12 hours a day and barely had access to food and clean water, dying of starvation.
Those who were not fit for work , such as sick men, children, the elderly and women, were killed in the gas chambers . The Nazis’ intention was to arrest and annihilate all Jews in Europe in this way. Numbers vary, but it is estimated that between six and 10 million people died during the Jewish holocaust, named by survivors and their descendants as Shoah .
the soviet genocides
Josef Stalin , totalitarian communist leader of the Soviet Union , was as genocidal as his political enemy of the conservative right represented by Nazism, Adolf Hitler. It is estimated that, in the Gulag camps alone (a word that refers to the “central administration of the camps”), between two and three million people died.
There is also a genocide that divides the opinion of historians, with some attributing it exclusively to Stalin, and others to a mix of factors (among them the policy of complete nationalization of grain production by all producers for the Soviet government). This is the episode known as Holodo mor , which resulted in the death of a few million Ukrainians (between three and six million) from starvation .
Stalin would have nationalized the production of grains from 1929, that is, the producers would have to hand over part of their production for the confiscation of the government. Dissatisfied, Ukrainian producers began to resist , waging a war against the Soviet government, which began to confiscate all grain production, resulting in starvation and deaths.
Well, it is known that millions of people died in Ukraine during this period, what is not certain, due to the clash of sources, is whether there really was this total confiscation and whether the Holodomor was really all Stalin’s responsibility.
the african holocaust
Little discussed (perhaps due to a mixture of colonial heritage and structural racism) is the African holocaust that took place in the Belgian Congo in the early 20th century .
The new colonialism , which began in the 19th century and lasted for most of the 20th century, had a way more or less similar to the old way of operating in African territory: colonizing countries aligned themselves with local leaderships in African countries, leaderships that who were commonly enemies of other internal alliances, after all, there was still a tribal system (which worked very well before the arrival of the Europeans).
The Europeans armed those leaderships and helped them against internal enemy forces, thus taking control of the land. The dominant groups formed a privileged elite. Those who did not belong to this elite were, of course, treated as non-citizens, repressed and even enslaved.
King Leopold II of Belgium did it differently. Beginning in 1890, he stationed his troops in the Belgian Congo, did not ally himself with local forces, and made all Congo citizens slaves of the Crown . Murders, torture, and rape—committed by soldiers, elites, Belgian merchants, and even the occasional local person who had some influence with Belgian rule—happened relentlessly. It is estimated that around 10 million Congolese died in this genocide.
The term ethnocide has come to be used in more recent anthropology studies to indicate the action of “killing” a culture . While genocide is the systematic killing of groups, ethnocide (which can even accompany genocide) is the killing of cultural elements , which are forgotten, prohibited or suffocated.