Throughout history, there has been a problem in classifying mass killings as genocides.  The term “genocide” carries a lot of weight because it implies that there was a deliberate extermination of a certain group of people.  Would natural disasters deliberately ignored by the government qualify as genocides?  Can colonization be considered a form of genocide?  Was the North Atlantic Slave Trade genocide?  Since the definition and characteristics of genocide are subjective, this post considers a broad definition of genocide, as in, organized mass murders that are politically, racially, religiously or ethnically fuelled.  The following list is by no means ranking the genocides in any terms, nor is this a comprehensive list of world genocides 

The Nazi Holocaust

Nazi Germany, led by Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s, sought to exterminate the Jewish population.  The Jews were used as a scapegoat for Germany’s economic crisis.  Over the course of WWII, close to 8 million Jewish people were slaughtered by the Nazi regime.  Close to 2/3 of all Jews living in Europe were killed, including 1.1 million children.  Furthermore, some 300,000 members of the Jewish population in Eastern Europe were displaced.

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

The slave trade to North America killed many Africans as they were uprooted and shipped across the Atlantic.  Over 12 million Africans were transported to the Americas and sold into slavery from the 16th to the 19th century.  The trans-Atlantic slave trade is considered one of history’s greatest tragedies in terms of scale and duration.

Holodomor (Soviet famine of 1932-1933)

Often called the “Terror-Famine” in Ukraine, this genocide was responsible for the deaths of 2.5 to 7.5 million Ukrainians.  From 1932 to 1933, Stalin withheld aid, restricted migration and confiscated food from Ukrainian peasants.  Holodomor, essentially means “extermination by hunger.”  Scholars believe that Stalin was attempting to quell the Ukrainian nationalism that threatened the USSR’s hold over the country.  Due to shoddy record-keeping and government corruption, the details concerning this genocide are largely unknown.

China’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution

China’s movement towards a utopian communist society from the 1940s to the 1970s failed miserably. Some 40-70 million people died due to starvation as well as the targeted killing of “rightists” and elites by the Red Guard, a communist youth organization that led the Cultural Revolution.  The promotion of a “class struggle” prompted young people to fight against society’s elites, such as professors, landowners and businessmen.

Pol Pot’s Cambodia

From 1975 to 1979, Pol Pot’s regime targeted intellectuals, foreigners and elites in an attempt to create an agrarian utopia reminiscent of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.  Over 2 million people were killed in a period of 4 years.  Any foreign economic or medical aid was suspended, media was censored, outside contact was forbidden and the country’s currency was eliminated.  People were forced to work all day in the fields, but were forbidden from eating the food they produced.  Those who were not targeted by the government often died of starvation or disease.

Stephanie Lamm

Photo: Alan Hart
Union County College, About.com, SlaveVoyages.org, UNESCO, The History Place

In the Central African Republic (CAR) broils a sectarian conflict that has left 210,000 fleeing its capital and over 500 dead. Violent clashes between Muslim and Christian militias in the nation’s capital of Bangui have world leaders scrambling to avoid a possible genocide in the strife-ridden country.

In fear of the mass killings, kidnappings and rapes ravaging the capital, hundreds of refugees have risked boat rides across a branch of the Congo River to escape the violence while 40,000 have decided to camp outside the French-controlled Bangui airport, a place of stability and safety for the displaced Africans.

Half a century’s worth of political chaos has left the land-locked country easy pickings for its current rebel terrorists.

After the CAR gained freedom from France in 1960, it remained under despotic rulers for three decades. In 1993, the country began its first civilian rule, which fell a decade later to a military coup led by then rebel Francois Bozize. He instated himself as president and ruled uninterrupted until the rebel coalition Seleka, meaning “alliance” in the Sango language, overran the capital in March and ousted him.

Since the most recent coup, the country has fallen even further into disorder, with the dissembled rebel and Christian militias fighting one another. The reappointed Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, a former human rights lawyer, expressed dismay at the deterioration of his country.

“It’s anarchy, a nonstate,” said Tiangaye. “Looting, arson, rape, massacres of the civilian population—they are sowing terrorism.”

France sent 1,600 troops to support the African Union-led forces on the ground, with hopes that other United Nations forces will help to restore order to the area. A visit by Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the United Nations, to CAR has reinforced her opinion that further action is necessary.

“I come away from our time in CAR very concerned about the extent of the polarization, the tautness of the society and the temptation that families and communities that have been victimized have to take justice into their own hands,” said Power.

Power’s fears arise from concerns that the conditions in the CAR may engender genocide. With both Christians and Muslims facing casualties, a desire for revenge may drive civilians to join militias. The Security Council passed a resolution to send 6,000 African troops to help bolster the 1,600 French troops already stationed. Whether that will be enough to quell the rebels, CAR refugees can only wait and see.

Emily Bajet

Sources: Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, BBC, BBCNew York Times, New York Times, New York Times, New York Times
Photo: The Washington Post

As of November 13, 2013, Boko Haram is now considered a terrorist group by the United States.

Boko Haram (Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad) is an Arabic term that means “Western education is sacrilege.” As a jihadist group, Boko Haram is considered to be one of the most violent movements in contemporary Islam, using aggressive brutality to achieve their end goal: to establish a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law while also ending what the group considers to be westernization.

2. Boko Haram honors and promotes the concept of vengeance.

July 2009 brought Boko Haram some setbacks. A clash with Nigerian Government forces led to the deaths of hundreds of members of the jihadist group. Former leader Muhammad Yusuf, who created the group in 2001, was also captured. This capture led to Yusuf’s televised execution, as well as the deaths of his father-in-law and other sect members.

In response to this event, Boko Haram began a series of violent attacks in northeast Nigeria.

“We are responsible for the attacks in Maiduguri, Damaturu and Potiskum,” said Abul Qaqa, a supposed spokesman for Boko Haram. “We carried out the attacks to avenge the killings of our brothers by the security forces in 2009. We will continue to wage war against the Nigerian state until we abolish the secular system and establish an Islamic state.”

3. The death toll of Boko Haram is in the thousands.

Responsible for over 400 killings in 2011 alone, the group’s death toll raises daily. In fact, it said that Boko Haram is guilty of over 4,700 murders.

4. The group has strong ties to Al Qaeda and has even threatened the United States.

A January 2012 United Nations report cited regional officials as saying that “Boko Haram had established links with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.” Apparently, some of the group’s “members from Nigeria and Chad had received training in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb camps in Mali during the summer of 2011.”

Abubakar Shekau, the current leader (also known as an “emir”) of Boko Haram, did not denounce these ties.

“Don’t think that jihad stops with the death of imams, because imams are individuals,” Shekau says. “Don’t you see and think how many sheikhs and men were martyred, like Sheikh Abdullah Azzam [the co-founder of al Qaeda], Abu Musab al Zarqawi [the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq], Abu Omar al Baghdadi [the emir of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq], Osama bin Laden, Abu Yahya al Libi [a top al Qaeda leader], Abu Yusuf Muhammad bin Yusuf al Nigiri [the former emir of Boko Haram], and others ….”

“Do not think jihad is over,” Shekau said. “Rather jihad has just begun. O America, die with your fury.”

5. Among Boko Haram’s thousands of victims are innocent civilians, including women and children.

The group set fire to a Mamudo boarding school that ended up killing 42 students and teachers. They killed 200 people in the village of Baga. Bombings of churches, schools, and various other places have earned the group their terrorist affiliation.

The fate of Alhaji Muhammadu proves the aforementioned point as well. Muhammadu was fatally shot when walking home on February 9. His son explained that his father had told the police about a booby-trapped car in the neighborhood. Boko Haram found out.

Two masked men on a motorcycle shouted: “Just try that again. Now you are dead,” recalled the son, Sudaifu Muhammadu, a 27-year-old student at Bayero University, shuddering.

“They are all around,” Mr. Muhammadu said.

6. The country’s poverty levels seem to have a negative impact on the situation overall.

The Nigerian state, the typical enemy of the jihadist group, is largely due to the nation’s enduring poverty, according to analysts. Despite Nigeria’s oil wealth, 60 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day. Since 2004, there has been an increase in national poverty, with about 75 percent of the population considered to be poor.

Reasons for attacks seemed quite clear to the Nigerians living with the fear of impending violence: injustice and misgovernance by political officials.

“The leaders are not concerned about the common man,” said Abdullahi Dantsabe, squatting in his open-air stall where he sells cooked yams.

Ado Ibrahim, a 22-year-old sugar cane vendor, was in agreement. He stated that another flare-up was “possible, as long as injustice persists.”

7. The local police are not as helpful as they were expected to be.

 National Geographic writer James Verini recalled a woman he met at a hospital in Kano this year.

“She’d been selling water in the bus station the day of the bombing. Her young daughter had been helping her,” Verini said. “When the car exploded, the girl vanished. In the darkness the woman called out for her. When her daughter didn’t respond, she began looking for a body. When she couldn’t find a body, she looked for an arm, a leg, clothing, a shoe, anything. She found nothing. She told the police what had happened, but they didn’t care and ordered her to leave. The woman’s husband went to every hospital in Kano, to no avail.”

The woman has not seen her daughter since that day.

– Samantha Davis
Sources: Reuters, International Business Times, Aljazeera, Counsel on Foreign Relations, New York Times, National Geographic


Since its devastating 1994 genocide, Rwanda has been in a state of recovery. Nearly 20 years ago, Hutus killed approximately 800,000 Tutsis over the course of 100 days. In addition to numerous social, political and economic changes, the mass murders shifted the country’s gender ratio drastically, leaving women to outnumber men 70 to 30 percent. As a result, Rwandan women have taken center stage in the country’s recovery – by weaving baskets.

The practice of basket weaving has been a part of Rwandan culture for centuries. Women weaved baskets to help carry and contain food, to decorate ceremonies and to transport goods. Following the genocide, however, basket weaving took on a new meaning.

In the past two decades, basket weaving has become a way for Rwandan women to come together, pushing past the “Hutu-Tutsi” barrier that had once divided them. Working next to women whose husbands had been killed and women whose husbands had committed the killings, women all over Rwanda have chosen peace over hatred.

But healing isn’t the only positive effect of basket weaving. Rwandan women have also gained economic independence and improved their local communities by selling their baskets in Western markets.

For example, Gahaya Links started off as a small company with only 27 basket weavers. Today, it is a business with more than 4,500 artisans that is continuing to help impoverished areas of Rwanda. The company has done so well that their products are being sold by stores across the U.S., including big department stores like Macy’s.

While Gahaya Links is the foremost basket weaving company, a number of other basket weaving businesses have been started. The profits of these companies go toward providing Rwandan families with food and medicine.

It’s been 19 years since the genocide and the country is still recovering. But sometimes recovery can begin with something as small as a handcrafted basket.

Chante Owens

Sources: Beauty of Rwanda, CBS, CNN
Photo: World Designs

Ukraine, “The Bread Basket of Europe,” a 233,000 square mile expanse of fertile steppe stretching from Poland and Romania in the West to Russia in the East.  Much like in Turkey, her southern neighbor across the Black Sea, Ukrainian culture combines elements of the Asiatic and the European into a Eurasian entity that is undoubtedly one of the most distinct in the world.  Even during the tyrannical rule of the Soviet Union, Ukraine retained the unique agricultural identity that defined it, consistently expressing an anti-regime, nationalistic fervor while making up for over a quarter of the USSR’s grain production.

Ukraine’s significance as the agricultural gold mine of Eastern Europe was the cornerstone of it’s economy for centuries, making it the most valuable territory to the former Soviet Union.  The strategic importance of Ukraine as a center of agricultural output is most notably evidenced by the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33, also known as the Holodomor (Голодомор). This great tragedy was deliberately created by Joseph Stalin to quell a strain of Ukrainian nationalism that had started to become active in the late 1920‘s.  The main thrust behind the designed famine, however, was Stalin’s desire to accelerate the industrialization of the Soviet empire by utilizing Ukraine’s enormous agrarian resources.

The famine was a result of the forced collectivization of Ukrainian farms by the government in which virtually all of the food produced on the collectives was seized by Soviet authorities and sold on the international market to raise the national income, leaving the Ukrainian locals with nothing to eat.  This collectivization was against the will of the Ukrainian “kulak” class of wealthy farmers who opposed Soviet rule and ran private farms for personal profit.  In devising this artificial famine, Stalin decimated the population of Ukraine and, through murder and banishment, eliminated the Kulak class, along with any rebellious sentiment represented by the Kulaks.

What Stalin did to the Ukrainians has been described by many historians as mass genocide.  Between 1932 and 1933, over seven million Ukrainians died of starvation.  Ukrainian famine survivor Miron Dolot, who was a child in Ukraine during the forced collectivization, recalls grisly scenes in which desperate villagers resorted to cannibalism and the consumption of rats to stay alive.   Stalin had reduced the Ukrainians to a condition of destitution that was beyond comprehension.  To the heartless dictator,  fast industrialization was the end goal, and any amount of life that stood in his way was expendable.

The Holodomor is a stain on the history of the former Soviet Union, and was only recently recognized by the Russian government.  To this day, the Ukrainian Famine is one of the only instances in history in which a dictator calculatedly reduced a contingent of his people to starvation and abject poverty.

– Josh Forgét

Sources: Execution by Hunger, Reflections on a Ravaged Century, CIA World Factbook
Photo: United Human Rights


The Rohingya people represent a small Muslim minority in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar. They are denied citizenship, forbidden from colleges, and have suffered mass killings and violence that the government has done nothing to halt. And recently, Myanmar passed a law restricting Rohingya childbirths, an action which may qualify as an act of genocide.

The Rohingya people have lived in Myanmar since the eighth century. However, their existence was wiped from official record in 1982 with the passage of a citizenship law. The law had the effect of making the Rohingya stateless peoples, illegal immigrants in their own country, with no rights or international recognition.

Rohingya people have experienced harsh violence and now will suffer an enforced two-child limit. The limitation is officially claimed as an effort to ease tensions between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minority, however the policy serves as a frightening indicator that genocide may not be far away. Genocide Watch has even gone so far as to issue a “Genocide Emergency Alert” for Myanmar, and the United Nations has also expressed similar concerns.

Genocide Watch breaks down genocides into eight distinct stages. In order, they are as follows: Classification, Symbolization, Dehumanization, Organization, Polarization, Preparation, Extermination and Denial. Myanmar is quickly ticking stages off the list.

Rohingya people are regularly forced to live in ethnic enclaves with enforced curfews. They experience intense violence which the government has done little if anything to prevent. They are becoming increasingly isolated from resources and from the outside world. If nothing is done to stop these policies, the Rohingya may be removed entirely from their country. The international community must act now to hold the Burmese government responsible and stop the eradication of the Rohingya ethnic group before it is too late.

-Caitlin Zusy

Sources: UN Dispatch, News.com
Photo: News.com

For hundreds of years, humans have been developing the modern-day laws of war to determine what is legal in the context of armed conflict. For the most part, such laws have been set to govern international armed conflict, such as the Geneva Conventions. Nonetheless, the Internet, traditional media sources, and social media connect us to daily atrocities, carried out under the guise of war that continue to violate international humanitarian law and prey on the extreme poor. As a result of violations that inhibit domestic and international aid, millions of people face hunger and disease in association with extreme poverty that goes unaddressed by international courts.

In 1945, when WWII was won by the Allied Forces, with 6 million dead in concentration camps, the responsible Nazi officers were tried for war crimes. All of the Allied nations, though not initially supporting the format of the trials themselves, backed the justice meted out by the Allied courts as a response. Some of the officers faced death, while others were sentenced to prison.

Today, the international body charged with bringing justice to war-torn nations, the International Criminal Court, fails to be recognized by the United States and many other influential countries that affect the global-political environment of the United Nations. Without having all countries as signatories, the ICC struggles to address atrocities being committed in some of the world’s poorest and most disenfranchised communities.

Because the ICC depends on participation from countries hosting alleged criminals to assert jurisdiction over the criminals within that host country’s borders, a lack of participation effectively cripples the ability of the Court to perform its duties in upholding international humanitarian law. In some cases, domestic courts are left to deliver justice, which, in the context of Syria, becomes all but impossible, seeing as the target of charges is the country’s president.

Because the poorest communities are often targeted by the perpetrators of war crimes, such as leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army Jospeh Kony, it may be all the more necessary that international courts acquire jurisdiction over these otherwise ungoverned warlords. The most impoverished are often the first casualties of war and feel the effects of a diminished food supply, lacking sanitation, and inadequate first aid facilities. Refugees of war in Africa and Asia are particularly vulnerable in the face of natural disasters and the long-term effects of climate change.

– Herman Watson

Source: USHMM, International Criminal Court, WarChild UK
Photo: Save the Children