Defining Genocide


            For this course, we will use the definition of genocide utilized by Genocide Watch and the Genocide Convention. Gregory Stanton is the President of Genocide Watch, the first global coalition dedicated to "predict, prevent, stop, and punish genocide and other forms of mass murder"1. Stanton founded Genocide Watch in 1999, which is the coordinating organization of The International Alliance to End Genocide (IAEG). IAEG aims to educate the general public and policy makers about "the causes, processes, and warning signs of genocide".2

 The objectives of these organizations are to:

  • Educate the public on the global problem of genocide

  • Predict and monitor areas of the world deemed "high risk" and supply recommendations for areas categorized under Genocide Watch, Warnings, and Emergencies. 

  • Use international resources to develop genocide prevention plans for policy makers across the globe, and specific plans for areas which fall under the three previously stated categories. 

  • Work with the United Nations to promote rapid response in areas necessitating intervention. These responses include regional and national forces, mandates and funding, and policy. 

  • Seek justice for victims and survivors, punish perpetrators of genocide, deter future genocides, and aid in the transition from divided societies to peaceful coexistence.3 

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Raphael Lemkin's United Nations General Assembly pass, From the collection of: Center for Jewish History


          December 9, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted its first human rights treaty during the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention). Following the conclusion of World War II, the Convention was an instrumental step to the development of international human rights and international criminal law. Though only 150 nations participated in the ratification of the Convention, the International Court of Justice has continuously stated the Convention is international law. As of July 2019, 152 States have ratified the Genocide Convention. This stance prevents nations which have not ratified the convention from engaging in genocide without international intervention. 

Definition of Genocide Adopted at 1948 Convention:

Genocide 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:

  1. Killing members of the group;

  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The definition of Genocide supplied through the Genocide Convention consists of two components: physical and mental. Each of these elements must be satisfied in order for an engagement to be classified as genocidal. The physical component of the definition refers to the acts committed against a targeted group, and is easier to identify than the second component, intent. 

In order to classify as genocide, there must be evidence of “intent on part of perpetrators to physically destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”4 This entails the establishment of the deliberate targeting of a group because of their real or perceived membership of one of the four previously mentioned groups protected under the Genocide Convention. Furthermore, this means the actions taken by perpetrators extend from individual members of these groups to the group as a whole. 

States who ratified the Genocide Convention must oblige to the following articles:

  • Obligation to prevent genocide (Article I) which, according to the ICJ, has an extraterritorial scope;
  • Obligation to punish genocide (Article I);

  • Obligation to enact the necessary legislation to give effect to the provisions of the Convention (Article V);

  • Obligation to ensure that effective penalties are provided for persons found guilty of criminal conduct according to the Convention (Article V);

  • Obligation to try persons charged with genocide in a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was committed, or by an international penal tribunal with accepted jurisdiction (Article VI);

  • Obligation to grant extradition when genocide charges are involved, in accordance with laws and treaties in force (Article VII), particularly related to protection granted by international human rights law prohibiting refoulment where there is a real risk of flagrant human rights violations in the receiving State.5

It is this understanding and definition of genocide we will use as we proceed to examine the 10 Stages of Genocide outlined by Gregory Stanton and how the Trump Administration engages with these stages throughout this course. Each stage will be accompanied with its own module and analyzed in the context of the Trump Administration. Below are the 10 Stages of Genocide by Gregory Stanton and utilized to measure genocidal actions world wide.

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The Ten Stages of Genocide By Dr. Gregory H. Stanton

© 2016 Gregory H. Stanton

          Genocide is a process that develops in ten stages that are predictable but not inexorable. At each stage, preventive measures can stop it. The process is not linear. Stages may occur simultaneously. Logically, later stages must be preceded by earlier stages. But all stages continue to operate throughout the process.


➔ 1. CLASSIFICATION: All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them” by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality: German and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi. Bipolar societies that lack mixed categories, such as Rwanda and Burundi, are the most likely to have genocide.


➔ 2. SYMBOLIZATION: We give names or other symbols to the classifications. We name people “Jews” or “Gypsies,” or distinguish them by colors or dress; and apply the symbols to members of groups. Classification and symbolization are universally human and do not necessarily result in genocide unless they lead to dehumanization. When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups: the yellow star for Jews under Nazi rule, the blue scarf for people from the Eastern Zone in Khmer Rouge Cambodia.


➔ 3. DISCRIMINATION: A dominant group uses law, custom, and political power to deny the rights of other groups. The powerless group may not be accorded full civil rights, voting rights, or even citizenship. The dominant group is driven by an exclusionary ideology that would deprive less powerful groups of their rights. The ideology advocates monopolization or expansion of power by the dominant group. It legitimizes the victimization of weaker groups. Advocates of exclusionary ideologies are often charismatic, expressing resentments of their followers, attracting support from the masses. Examples include the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 in Nazi Germany, which stripped Jews of their German citizenship, and prohibited their employment by the government and by universities. Denial of citizenship to the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma is a current example.


➔ 4. DEHUMANIZATION: One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to vilify the victim group. The majority group is taught to regard the other group as less than human, and even alien to their society. They are indoctrinated to believe that “We are better off without them.” The powerless group can become so depersonalized that they are actually given numbers rather than names, as Jews were in the death camps. They are equated with filth, impurity, and immorality. Hate speech fills the propaganda of official radio, newspapers, and speeches.


➔ 5. ORGANIZATION: Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility. (An example is the Sudanese government’s support and arming of the Janjaweed in Darfur.) Sometimes organization is informal (Hindu mobs led by local RSS militants during Indian partition) or decentralized (jihadist terrorist groups.) Special army units or militias are often trained and armed. Arms are purchased by states and militias, often in violation of UN Arms Embargos, to facilitate acts of genocide. States organize secret police to spy on, arrest, torture, and murder people suspected of opposition to political leaders. Special training is given to murderous militias and special army killing units.


➔6. POLARIZATION: Extremists drive the groups apart. Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda. Motivations for targeting a group are indoctrinated through mass media. Laws may forbid intermarriage or social interaction. Extremist terrorism targets moderates, intimidating and silencing the center. Moderates from the perpetrators’ own group are most able to stop genocide, so are the first to be arrested and killed. Leaders in targeted groups are the next to be arrested and murdered. The dominant group passes emergency laws or decrees that grants them total power over the targeted group. The laws erode fundamental civil rights and liberties. Targeted groups are disarmed to make them incapable of self-defense, and to ensure that the dominant group has total control.


➔ 7. PREPARATION: Plans are made for genocidal killings. National or perpetrator group leaders plan the “Final Solution” to the Jewish, Armenian, Tutsi or other targeted group “question.” They often use euphemisms to cloak their intentions, such as referring to their goals as “ethnic cleansing,” “purification,” or “counter-terrorism.” They build armies, buy weapons and train their troops and militias. They indoctrinate the populace with fear of the victim group. Leaders often claim that “if we don’t kill them, they will kill us,” disguising genocide as self-defense. Acts of genocide are disguised as counter-insurgency if there is an ongoing armed conflict or civil war. There is a sudden increase in inflammatory rhetoric and hate propaganda with the objective of creating fear of the other group. Political processes such as peace accords that threaten the total dominance of the genocidal group or upcoming elections that may cost them their grip on total power may actually trigger genocide.


➔ 8. PERSECUTION: Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. In state sponsored genocide, members of victim groups may be forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is often expropriated. Sometimes they are even segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. They are deliberately deprived of resources such as water or food in order to slowly destroy them. Programs are implemented to prevent procreation through forced sterilization or abortions. Children are forcibly taken from their parents.  The victim group’s basic human rights become systematically abused through extrajudicial killings, torture and forced displacement. Genocidal massacres begin. They are acts of genocide because they intentionally destroy part of a group. The perpetrators watch for whether such massacres meet any international reaction. If not, they realize that that the international community will again be bystanders and permit another genocide.


➔ 9. EXTERMINATION begins, and quickly becomes the mass killing legally called “genocide.” It is “extermination” to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human. When it is sponsored by the state, the armed forces often work with militias to do the killing. Sometimes the genocide results in revenge killings by groups against each other, creating the downward whirlpool-like cycle of bilateral genocide (as in Burundi). Acts of genocide demonstrate how dehumanized the victims have become. Already dead bodies are dismembered; rape is used as a tool of war to genetically alter and eradicate the other group. Destruction of cultural and religious property is employed to annihilate the group’s existence from history. The era of “total war” began in World War II. Firebombing did not differentiate civilians from non-combatants. The civil wars that broke out after the end of the Cold War have also not differentiated civilians and combatants. They result in widespread war crimes. Mass rapes of women and girls have become a characteristic of all modern genocides. All men of fighting age are murdered in some genocides. In total genocides all the members of the targeted group are exterminated.


➔ 10. DENIAL is the final stage that lasts throughout and always follows genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile. There they remain with impunity, like Pol Pot or Idi Amin, unless they are captured and a tribunal is established to try them.

© 2016 Gregory H. Stanton.








6. President, Genocide Watch; Research Professor in Genocide Studies and Prevention, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, Arlington,Virginia 22201 USA

Last modified: Sunday, 5 Apr 2020, 16:57