Developed by Dr. Gregory H. Stanton, founder of Genocide Watch – a nonprofit organization dedicated to help stop genocide- the below “Ten Stages of Genocide” shows how genocide occurs and thus provides an important barometer and useful framework that identifies warning signs.
Dr. Stanton chiefly underlines genocide as progressing in the ten stages that are largely predictable and each stoppable through preventive measures. He further argues that some stages occur concurrently, however latter stages must be always be preceded by earlier ones and thus fully preventable.
All stages continue throughout the process of genocide.
All cultures have categories to distinguish people into ‘us and them’ by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality: German and Jew; Hutu and Tutsi; White Settlers and Ovaherero in early Central South West Africa; and White Settlers and Nama in early Namibia/ then South West Africa.
Bipolar societies that lack mixed categories 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.
Promotion of a common language in countries like Tanzania 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 ‘Kaffir’, ‘Jews’, ‘Gypsies’, ‘tall Trees’ or distinguish them by colors or dress; and apply the symbols to members of groups. Classification and symbolization are universally human and do not necessarily result in genocide unless they lead to dehumanization. When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups: the monkey for the natives of South West Africa, the yellow star for Jews under Nazi rule, the blue scarf for people from the Eastern Zone in Khmer Rouge Cambodia.
To combat symbolization, hate symbols can be legally forbidden (swastikas and use of racist/ethnic slurs like Kaffir) 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, where the government refused to supply enough yellow badges and at least eighty percent of Jews did not wear them, depriving the yellow star of its significance as a Nazi symbol for Jews.
A dominant group uses law, custom, and political power to deny the rights of other groups. The powerless group may not be accorded full civil rights or even citizenship. Examples include the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 in Nazi Germany, which stripped Jews of their German citizenship, and prohibited their employment by the government and by universities. Denial of citizenship to the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma is another example. Prevention against discrimination means full political empowerment and citizenship rights for all groups in a society.
Discrimination on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, race or religion should be outlawed. Individuals should have the right to sue the state, corporations, and other individuals if their rights are violated.
One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. The equation of natives to monkeys and other wild animals in Colonial German territories, including early Namibia/then German South West Africa, was endemic, particularly amongst the settler community who persistently and consistently racially abused natives. 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 democracies. Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen. 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, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility (“it was the Imperial troopers and ‘rogue” Commander Lothar von Trotha in early Namibia/ South West Africa’ or the Janjaweed in Darfur”.) Sometimes organization is informal (Hindu mobs led by local RSS militants) or decentralized (terrorist groups.) Special army units or militias are often trained and armed. Plans are made for genocidal killings.
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 post-genocide Rwanda.
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. Moderates from the perpetrators’ own group are most able to stop genocide, so are the first to be arrested and killed.
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’état by extremists should be opposed by international sanctions.
National (German Kaiser Wilhelm II, through his Colonial Commander Lothar von trotha) or perpetrator group leaders plan the ‘Final Solution’ to the Ovaherero, Namas Jewish, Armenian, Tutsi or other targeted group ‘question.’ They often use euphemisms to cloak their intentions, such as referring to their goals as ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ‘purification,’ or ‘counter-terrorism.’ They reinforce, build armies, buy weapons and train their troops and militias. They indoctrinate the populace with fear of the victim group. Leaders often claim that ‘if we don’t kill them, they will kill us.’
Prevention of preparation may include arms embargos and commissions to enforce them. It should include prosecution of incitement and conspiracy to commit genocide, both crimes under Article 3 of the Genocide Convention.
Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Extermination Orders such as that of 1904 against Ovaherero and 1905 against the Nama people respectively AND or Death lists are drawn up and issued, sometimes public such as in the case of early Namibia or privately to perpetrator groups. In state sponsored genocide, members of victim groups may be forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is often expropriated (cattle and land belonging to Ovaherero and Namas were expropriated and handed over to German settlers who today lives off that very land and illegally gotten wealth from cattle ranching). Sometimes they are even segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps (many such camps were erected in South West Africa, with the largest based at Shark Island, Swakopmund and Windhoek) or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. Genocidal massacres begin. They are acts of genocide because they intentionally destroy part of a group.
At this stage, a Genocide Emergency must be declared. If the political will of the great powers, regional alliances, or the U.N. Security Council can be mobilized, armed international intervention should be prepared, or heavy assistance provided to the victim group to prepare for its self-defense. Humanitarian assistance should be organized by the U.N. and private relief groups for the inevitable tide of refugees to come.
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. (An unsafe ‘safe’ area is worse than none at all.) The U.N. Standing High Readiness Brigade, EU Rapid Response Force, or regional forces – should be authorized to act by the U.N. Security Council if the genocide is small. For larger interventions, a multilateral force authorized by the U.N. should intervene.
If the U.N. is paralyzed, regional alliances must act. It is time to recognize that the international responsibility to protect transcends the narrow interests of individual nation states. If strong nations will not provide troops to intervene directly, they should provide the airlift, equipment, and financial means necessary for regional states to intervene.
Is the final stage that lasts throughout and always follows a genocide. In early Namibia/ then South West Africa, it lasted for a period no less than four years (1904-1907) for Ovaherero at least. 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. Shark Island Concetration Camp (in Southern Namibia) was notoriously famous for human remains disposals into the sea for sharks to feast on them but also human skulls being shipped off to Germany for racist white supremacist based scientific experiments by Nazi Dr Eugen Fiscer. Perpetrators deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. In refuting the cause of Ovaherero and Namas, Germans blames for the former their rebellion which they argued spilled German blood and thus invited and warranted harsh retribution from the German state.
Perpetrators also 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 Germans disposed off colonies after defeat in the 1st world war, Pol Pot in Cambodia or Idi Amin in Uganda, unless they are captured and a tribunal is established to try them.
The 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 or Rwanda Tribunals, or an international tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or an International Criminal Court may not deter the worst genocidal killers. But with the political will to arrest and prosecute them, some may be brought to justice.
The Ovaherero and Namas of Namibia have dragged the Germans to court in the USA, as host to legal statues that permits foreign nationals with no recourse elsewhere to seek justice for genocide crimes, and today awaits justice to be served from the highest court in that land where the case had now been launched.