Published on April 19, 2007
The eight stages of Genocide
By Gregory H. Stanton
April should be a month of reflection for humanity on the atrocities committed
throughout our history. We should all reflect on the Armenian Genocide,
commemorated April 24, and on the Holocaust Yom Hashoa, commemorated April 15.
When Hitler was asked about what will the rest of the world do about his ‘final
solution’ (his attempt to exterminate the Jews) he replied that it will be
forgotten, like the Armenian Genocide.
History has shown that all genocides have something in common. All start with
classification and end by denial, stage seven which is extermination…
As long as nothing is done to cut a genocide off as early as possible, at the
first stage, humanity will have more genocides to commemorate…
It is imperative to know the signs of these stages that lead to the
extermination of our fellow human beings.
All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them”
by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality: German and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi.
Bipolar societies that lack mixed categories, such as Rwanda and Burundi, are the most likely to
have genocide. The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop
universalistic institutions that transcend ethnic or racial divisions, that
actively promote tolerance and understanding, and that promote classifications
that transcend the divisions. The Catholic church could have played this role
in Rwanda, had it not been riven by the same ethnic cleavages as Rwandan society.
Promotion of a common language in countries like Tanzania
or Cote d’Ivoire has also promoted transcendent national identity. This search for common ground
is vital to early prevention of genocide.
We give names or other symbols to the classifications. We name people
“Jews” or “Gypsies”, or distinguish them by colors or
dress; and apply them to members of groups. Classification and symbolization
are universally human and do not necessarily result in genocide unless they
lead to the next stage, dehumanization. When combined with hatred, symbols may
be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups: the yellow star for Jews
under Nazi rule, the blue scarf for people from the Eastern Zone in Khmer Rouge
To combat symbolization, hate symbols can be legally forbidden (swastikas) as
can hate speech. Group marking like gang clothing or tribal scarring can be
outlawed, as well. The problem is that legal limitations will fail if
unsupported by popular cultural enforcement. Though Hutu and Tutsi were
forbidden words in Burundi
until the 1980′s, code-words replaced them. If widely supported, however,
denial of symbolization can be powerful, as it was in Bulgaria, when
many non-Jews chose to wear the yellow star, depriving it of its significance
as a Nazi symbol for Jews. According to legend in Denmark, the Nazis did not
introduce the yellow star because they knew even the King would wear it.
One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated
with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal
human revulsion against murder.
At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to vilify
the victim group. In combating this dehumanization, incitement to genocide
should not be confused with protected speech. Genocidal societies lack constitutional
protection for countervailing speech, and should be treated differently than in
democracies. Hate radio stations should be shut down, and hate propaganda
banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished.
Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, though sometimes informally
(Hindu mobs led by local RSS militants) or by terrorist groups. Special army
units or militias are often trained and armed. Plans are made for genocidal
To combat this stage, membership in these militias should be outlawed. Their
leaders should be denied visas for foreign travel. 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
Extremists drive the groups apart. Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda.
Laws may forbid intermarriage or social interaction. Extremist terrorism
targets moderates, intimidating and silencing the center. Prevention may mean
security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups.
Assets of extremists may be seized, and visas for international travel denied
to them. Coups d’¢etat by extremists should be opposed by international
Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious
identity. Death lists are drawn up. Members of victim groups are forced to wear
identifying symbols. They are often segregated into ghettoes, forced into
concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved.
At this stage, a Genocide Alert must be called. If the political will of the U.S.,
NATO, and the U.N. Security Council can be mobilized, armed international
intervention should be prepared, or heavy assistance to the victim group in
preparing for its self-defense. Otherwise, at least humanitarian assistance
should be organized by the U.N. and private relief groups for the inevitable
tide of refugees.
Extermination begins, and quickly becomes the mass killing legally called
“genocide.” It is “extermination” to the killers because
they do not believe their victims to be fully human. When it is sponsored by
the state, the armed forces often work with militias to do the killing.
Sometimes the genocide results in revenge killings by groups against each
other, creating the downward whirlpool-like cycle of bilateral genocide (as in Burundi).
At this stage, only rapid and overwhelming armed intervention can stop
genocide. Real safe areas or refugee escape corridors should be established
with heavily armed international protection. The U.N. needs a Standing High
Readiness Brigade or a permanent rapid reaction force, to intervene quickly
when the U.N. Security Council calls it. For larger interventions, a
multilateral force authorized by the U.N., led by NATO or a regional military
power, should intervene. If the U.N. will not intervene directly, militarily
powerful nations should provide the airlift, equipment, and financial means
necessary for regional states to intervene with U.N. authorization. It is time
to recognize that the law of humanitarian intervention transcends the interests
Denial is the eighth stage that always follows a genocide. It is among the
surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide
dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and
intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often
blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes,
and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into
exile. There they remain with impunity, like Pol Pot or Idi Amin, unless they
are captured and a tribunal is established to try them.
The best response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or
national courts. There the evidence can be heard, and the perpetrators
punished. Tribunals like the Yugoslav, Rwanda,
or Sierra Leone Tribunals, an international tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and
ultimately the International Criminal Court must be created. They may not deter
the worst genocidal killers. But with the political will to arrest and
prosecute them, some mass murderers may be brought to justice.