Genocide 102: The 8 Stages of Genocide

Genocide 102

The Ten 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 Stanton, 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 in which to help prevent genocides before they occur. Stanton ultimately expanded his list, which now includes two additional stages. The ten stages and their preventive measures are as follows:

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 dual-fragmented 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.

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.

This stage centers on the dominant group, fueled by ideology, using power structures in their control to deny the rights of those they wish to exclude or exterminate. Minority groups are often blocked from basic rights – civil, civic, and human – and the dominant group uses this to grow their power. An example is the current situation in Myanmar, where the Rohingya population has been denied citizenship, and thus the right to vote and fully participate in civic life, further underscoring the idea that they are not truly a part of Myanmar society. In order to prevent this stage, steps must be taken to support and promote the rights of all members in society.

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.

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 UN 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.

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 organizations. Coups d’états by extremists should be opposed by international sanctions.

In the stage right before the onset of genocide, the final preparations are made. The perpetrating group makes plans for their “Final Solution” for the group they are determined to eliminate. Perpetrators will often use euphemisms for their goals, such as China’s intent on “fighting terrorism” in Xinjiang province. In this stage they build their armies, stockpile resources, and prepare the populace to join in their fight. This stage is where we see a rise in hate speech and violent rhetoric, encouraging a belief in the populace that the genocide is an act of self-defense. Prevention of this stage includes international response, specifically prosecution under Article 3 of the Genocide Convention.

At this stage in a genocide, victim groups are being identified, separated out from the rest of society, perhaps being made to wear identifying markers, or even placed in camps. This is the point where victims experience direct violence such as extrajudicial killings, forced sterilization, torture, and children being forcibly removed from their parents. An example of persecution can be seen in what is happening to the Uyghur and Turkic Muslim communities in China, who are enduring a campaign of slow extermination by the Chinese government. This is the stage in a genocide where international bodies must respond, declaring a Genocide Emergency, and finding the political will to intervene on behalf of the civilians in harm’s way.

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.

After the violence has occurred, the perpetrating power almost always 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).