Genocide 102: 8 Stages of Genocide

In addition to understanding the characteristics of genocide, another important educational component is the identification of the various stages of genocide. In 1996, Gregory Staton, then president of Genocide Watch, presented a paper to the U.S. State Department called The 8 Stages of Genocide. Using the Rwandan Genocide as its primary model, it outlines eight distinctive stages that occur before, during, and after a genocide. Preventive measures are included within each stage so that activists and the international community may learn ways which to help prevent genocides before they occur. The eight stages and their preventive measures are as follows:

  1. Classification: This stage is characterized by the promotion of an “us and them” attitude with the “them” referring to a minority group or groups that somehow differs from the majority. While the majority of cultures have distinctions between various ethnic groups, strict classification can be harmful to a given society. This stage is especially harmful in bipolar societies such as Rwanda whose population is mostly comprised of only two ethnic groups. The main preventive measures include introduction of universalistic institutions that transcend ethnic or racial divisions. Promotion of common religion or language is key to preventing harmful classification. This search for common ground is vital to early prevention of genocide.
  2. Symbolization: In this stage, the targeted group or groups are further polarized from society through the introduction of group identifiers. Examples of these can be the yellow star worn by Jews prior to the Holocaust, the identification of Tutsis based on physical characteristics, or the targeting of Roma Gypsies based on their dress. This stage is especially dangerous because it is when ethnic/religious/political identification ceases to be solely defined by personal affiliation. Combating symbolization is difficult, with the most effective methods (so far) being personal and state refusal to implement the use of said symbols. In addition, hate symbols and hate speech can be legally forbidden.
  3. Dehumanization: In this stage, the perpetrating power begins to equate the targeted group or groups to sub-human status. Members of groups are likened to animals, vermin, insects, and/or diseases. Dehumanization allows average people to overcome the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda is in print and other media are used to vilify the victim group. To combat dehumanization, incitement to genocide should not be confused with protected speech. This rhetoric is harmful and can lead to the killing of hundreds of thousands. Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be condemned and not be given diplomatic immunity.
  4. Organization: This stage is when the perpetrating power begins initial preparation for the coming violence. Sometimes organization is informal (i.e. mobs) or decentralized (terrorist groups). The benefits (for a genocidal government) of using non-governmental actors in these cases include allowing the state the ability to deny the crimes. Special army units or militias are often trained and armed, while plans are made for genocidal killings. To combat this stage, membership in these militias should be outlawed.The U.N. should impose arms embargoes on governments and citizens of countries involved in genocidal massacres, and create commissions to investigate violations, as was done in post-genocide Rwanda.
  5. Polarization: In this stage, the majority group is distanced to the furthest extreme from the targeted group or groups. Extremists set out to drive the groups apart while hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda. Laws are introduced that may forbid intermarriage or social interaction. Extremist groups target moderates to intimidate and silence them. Prevention at this stage may mean security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups. Coups d’états by extremists should be opposed by international sanctions.
  6. Preparation: In the stage right before the onset of genocide, the final preparations are made. Victims are identified and separated out of the general population, with many of them placed on a so-called “death list.” Members of victim groups have their property expropriated, and then are often segregated into ghettos, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. At this stage, a “genocide emergency” must be declared. If possible, armed international intervention should also be prepared. Humanitarian assistance should be organized by the U.N. and by private relief groups for the inevitable tide of refugees.
  7. Extermination: This is the stage in which the genocide officially begins. When sponsored by the state, armed forces often work in tandem with militias to carry out the killings. Sometimes, the genocide results in revenge killings by groups against each other, creating a cyclical cycle of bilateral genocide (as in Burundi). At this stage, only a rapid and overwhelming armed intervention can stop the genocide. Actual safe areas or refugee escape corridors should be established with heavily armed international protection
  8. Denial: After the violence has occurred, the perpetrating power almost allows denies or hides its involvement, or even the existence, of the violence. The perpetrators dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence, and/or intimidate the witnesses. They deny any part in the violence and sometimes even blame the targeted group or groups. Investigations of the crimes are blocked, and the perpetrators remain in power until driven out. Most, however, remain in power with impunity, unless they are captured and a tribunal is established. The response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts (i.e. International Criminal Court).