Genocide 103: Tools of Genocide

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) explicitly outlines five clauses that constitute the crime of genocide: killing members of the group, causing serious physical or psychological harm to the group, deliberately inflicting conditions of life that cannot be survived, imposing measures to prevent births and the forcible transfer of children. This broad definition means that there are a number of different instruments of genocide and ways to perpetrate it. Therefore, it is important to recognise that the crime of genocide is not limited to mass killing. This section will address some of the instruments or tools used by perpetrators to commit acts of genocide and although it is not an exhaustive list it outlines some of the main tools or instruments of genocide.

Mass Killing
This is arguably the most obvious signal of genocide. People from a particular targeted group are murdered on a large scale in a systematic manner with the intent to destroy the group. Often men of a fighting age are targeted first, followed by the women and children of the group. The killing may be perpetrated by military, police or militia groups working with the perpetrator group. Often killing happens systematically with the perpetration of a series of massacres but it may also take the form of targeting particular civilians during civil war or conflict.

Sexual Violence
The intention behind the perpetration of sexual violence is primarily to intimidate, emasculate and dehumanise the victims. Sexual violence can either be perpetrated on a systematic and large scale, condoned by military leaders or it may be perpetrated by opportunistic individuals. During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995), rape was used in a calculated manner to bring about births of the perpetrator’s children. Women were detained in rape camps and houses for a period of time and raped until they were pregnant, they were then detained until it was too late for an abortion. It is important to remember that sexual violence is not only perpetrated against women and men and children can also be victims.

Concentration Camps and Detention Centres
The existence of concentration camps and detention centres alone are not signs that genocide is being perpetrated, however, some form of detention site usually runs alongside the perpetration of genocide. The aim of detention centres being to detain members of the victim group in one area so that they cannot fight back against the regime and can be easily controlled. Concentration camps or detention centres may be disguised as prisons used to incarcerate those who rebelled and are often used to detain men of a fighting age who may work against the regime. Detention centres are sometimes used to imprison men, women and children prior to killing them and can be operated as deportation centres prior to killing or removal of the population.

Forced Abortions, Preventions of Births and Transferring of Children
Forced abortions and preventions of births are often used as methods of perpetrating genocide as it restricts the growth of the victim population. Children may also be transferred, shortly after birth, to another family. Controversially, this was a key characteristic of colonialism and was particularly common in Australia where children born of Aboriginal parents were taken and ‘adopted’ by white European settlers. In Australia, this is known as the ‘Stolen Generation’ and removals occurred between 1905 and 1969, an apology was only made by the Australian government in 2008.

Forced Deportations and ‘Cleansing’
‘Cleansing’ is a key component of genocide, however, it has a complicated and debatable definition and is not clearly defined in international law. In essence, ‘cleansing’ is the removal of a group of people from a particular area. Forced deportations and ‘cleansing’ have played an important role in conflict, war and genocide throughout history and continue on a large scale around the world. It may involve mass killing but does not always and usually involves the relocation of a population away from land that is viewed as belonging to the perpetrators. ‘Cleansing’ became a hot topic in the 1990s, particularly during the Kosovan war of 1998-9 when Serbs deported thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, creating an influx of refugees to neighbouring countries. Forced deportation is often framed as a protective measure taken by the perpetrator group to secure land that they view as rightfully theirs and therefore proves to be a legal loophole and often does not lead to convictions. Forced deportations are coupled with mass violence, killing and intimidation. Another form of ‘cleansing’ is ghettoisation, as is evident in the early years of the Nazi regime when Jews were segregated from German society and forced to live in large ghettos in the cities. These ghettos later acted as a deportation centre for the concentration camps.

Cultural Repression
The repression of a particular culture, religion or language acts as a form of cultural genocide when the intention is to destroy a particular social or cultural group. This concept has increasingly come into public discourse recently through the destruction of cultural and historical monuments by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Some form of cultural repression usually accompanies the perpetration of genocide and acts to obliterate any physical reminder of the victim group from the area. Aside from physical destruction of books, monuments, religious buildings and any place of significant cultural importance, cultural repression can also take the form of banning a language from being spoken, banning certain dress or banning the practice of the religion of the victim group. Cultural repression can act as one of the first signals of potential genocide as it creates an ‘us vs. them’ attitude and frames the victim group as criminals or outsiders in society.