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The Stages of Genocide and How to Prevent Them

Genocide is the deliberate killing of a large group of people, usually based on their ethnicity. Although most well-known genocides are in the past, they still occur today. Less-developed countries with high poverty rates are particularly prone to genocidal attacks launched by corrupt governments or terrorist groups. According to George Mason University professor Gregory H. Stanton, the stages of genocide are nonlinear, predictable and preventable. There are ten stages of genocide, and each stage can be stopped if preventive measures are taken.

Ten Stages of Genocide

  1. Classification: Human beings tend to distinguish people into “us and them” at many levels. People can be categorized by their ethnicity, nationality, race or religion. Societies with mixed categories, such as Burundi and Rwanda, are at greater risk of genocide. This early stage can be prevented by establishing institutions that integrate identities and promote tolerance.
  1. Symbolization: Names and symbols are assigned to classified people. They are defined by specific terms, color or dress. Without dehumanization, symbolization does not necessarily result in genocide. Political institutions can ban group marking and hate symbols, but these bans must be supported by popular culture enforcement. Denying symbolization can also be powerful.
  1. Discrimination: A dominant group of people denies the rights of other groups. The powerless group may be deprived of citizenship, civil rights or voting rights. Combatting discrimination requires full political empowerment and citizenship rights for all groups of people. Discrimination on any basis can be outlawed, and individuals can retain the right to appeal if their rights are violated.
  1. Dehumanization: A group of people denies the humanity of another group. One group is regarded as less than human—or even alien—to the society. To prevent dehumanization, hate speech and hate crimes can be outlawed, leaders who incite genocide can have their movement restricted.
  1. Organization: Genocide requires organization and is typically orchestrated by the state. States often use militias, but organization may be informal or decentralized. This stage can be averted by outlawing membership in genocidal militias, banning genocidal leaders from international travel and imposing arms embargos on countries involved in genocide.
  1. Polarization: Extremists may further divide groups by forbidding intermarriage and social interaction. Hate groups may also broadcast polarizing propaganda. This can be curbed by protecting moderate leaders, assisting human rights groups and seizing extremist assets.
  1. Preparation: Plans are made for genocidal killing where leaders propose the a solution to the problem of the targeted group. Leaders disguise genocide as self-defense and may refer to it as “counter-terrorism,” “ethnic cleansing” or “purification.” This stage can be halted by imposing arms embargos and commissions to enforce them; this includes prosecution of incitement and conspiracy to commit genocide, both of which are crimes under Article Three of the Genocide Convention.
  1. Persecution: Targeted groups are identified and separated from the population. Victims may be segregated into ghettos or deported to concentration camps. They are deliberately deprived of resources such as food and water, and their human rights are systematically abused. Genocidal massacres commence. A Genocide Emergency may be declared at this stage, whereby armed international intervention and humanitarian assistance should be provided.
  1. Extermination: Mass extermination begins and quickly becomes “genocide.” At this advanced stage, only rapid and intense intervention can prevent genocide. Refugee escape corridors and safe areas can be established.
  1. Denial: Denial lasts throughout and follows genocide as perpetrators attempt to destroy any evidence that indicates a genocide occurred. Denial can be combatted through legal punishment of perpetrators and education in schools and the media.

Genocide Watch has three levels of Genocide Alerts: Genocide Watch is declared when early warning signs indicate potential persecution, Genocide Warning is called when massacres occur and genocide is imminent, and Genocide Emergency is declared when genocide is underway.

There are currently eight Genocide Emergencies declared to be occurring around the world. Understanding the stages of genocide can prevent further genocidal massacres.

– Carolyn Gibson

Photo: Flickr