News / Middle East

    What Is Genocide?

    FILE - Bones, suspected to belong to members of  Iraq's Yazidi community, are seen in a mass grave on the outskirts of the town of Sinjar, November 30, 2015.
    FILE - Bones, suspected to belong to members of Iraq's Yazidi community, are seen in a mass grave on the outskirts of the town of Sinjar, November 30, 2015.
    VOA News

    The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday passed a bipartisan resolution declaring that systemic violence committed by the Islamic State group against Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria constitutes genocide.

    The vote comes just three days before a deadline set by Congress for Secretary of State John Kerry to deliver the Obama administration's decision on whether it will declare that IS atrocities in Iraq and Syria constitute genocide. The atrocities include mass murder, crucifixions, beheadings, rape, torture, enslavement, and the kidnapping of children.

    What is genocide?

    In 1948, the United Nations defined genocide – the word didn’t exist prior to 1944 -- as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such, by:

    • Killing members of the group;
    • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
    • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
    • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

    The U.N. decided the following acts shall be punishable:

    • Genocide;
    • Conspiracy to commit genocide;
    • Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
    • Attempt to commit genocide;
    • Complicity in genocide.
    FILE- In this file photo dated January 1945, three Auschwitz prisoners, right, talk with Soviet soldiers after the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, in Poland, was liberated by the Russians.
    FILE- In this file photo dated January 1945, three Auschwitz prisoners, right, talk with Soviet soldiers after the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, in Poland, was liberated by the Russians.

    Key Terms

    Genocide: Violent crimes committed against a group with the intent to destroy the existence of the group. The specific “intent to destroy” particular groups is unique to genocide.

    Crimes against humanity: A closely related category of international law, crimes against humanity, is defined as widespread or systematic attacks against civilians.

    War crimes: Criminal acts committed during armed conflicts and referring to grave breaches of the rules of warfare.

    Historical cases

    Not all incidents listed below are genocide; some are instances of mass killings that have not been legally classified as genocide.

    Holocaust: Between 1933-1945, the Nazi regime in Germany and its collaborators carried out the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of 6 million Jews.

    Armenia: About 1.5 million Armenians living in Turkey were killed or forcibly removed from their homeland from 1915-1918.

    Bosnia-Herzegovina: Between 1992 and 1995, an estimated 100,000 people were killed, 80 percent of whom were Bosnian Muslims. As many as 8,000 male Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica were killed in July 1995, counting as the largest massacre in Europe since the Holocaust.

    FILE - A Bosnian man walks among graves during a funeral ceremony for the 136 victims at the Potocari memorial complex near Srebrenica, 150 kilometers (94 miles) northeast of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 11, 2015.
    FILE - A Bosnian man walks among graves during a funeral ceremony for the 136 victims at the Potocari memorial complex near Srebrenica, 150 kilometers (94 miles) northeast of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 11, 2015.

    Myanmar: Anti-Muslim violence has targeted the more than 1 million Rohingya, a Muslim minority group living in Myanmar. The Rohingya have no legal status in the country, and the U.N. and U.S. State Department have documented widespread hate speech, blocking of aid and restrictions of basic rights.

    Cambodia: Between 1975 and 1979, nearly 2 million people died when Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge subjected the country’s citizens to forced labor, persecution and execution in the name of the regime’s ruthless agrarian ideology.

    Rwanda: From April to July 1994, Hutu radicals killed an estimated 800,000 people, most of them Tutsis.

    Central African Republic: In 2013, Seleka fighters seized power in the majority-Christian nation, sparking reprisals by "anti-balaka" Christian militias. Groups and individuals are now being targeted because of their Christian or Muslim identity.

    Democratic Republic of the Congo: Ongoing conflicts in North and South Kivu, Ituri province and north Katanga over the past two decades have killed more than 5 million civilians, and displaced millions more. Most have died from preventable diseases as a result of the collapse of infrastructure, lack of food and health care, and displacement.

    Iraq: The Islamic State group targeted religious and ethnic minorities, including the Yazidis, in northern Iraq in September 2014. The campaign of violence forcibly displaced more than 800,000 people and resulted in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians.

    FILE - Children look at the fin of a mortar projectile that was found at the Al-Abassi camp for internally displaced persons, after an attack by rebels, in Mellit town, North Darfur, March 25, 2014.
    FILE - Children look at the fin of a mortar projectile that was found at the Al-Abassi camp for internally displaced persons, after an attack by rebels, in Mellit town, North Darfur, March 25, 2014.

    Darfur, Sudan: General Omar al-Bashir took power in a coup in 1989. Conflicts increased between African farmers and many nomadic Arab tribes. In 2003, rebel groups took up arms against the Sudanese forces, leading al-Bashir’s government to unleash the Janjaweed, Arab militias, who attacked hundreds of villages. The genocide in Darfur has claimed at least 400,000 lives and displaced more than 2.5 million people. In 2009, al-Bashir, became the first sitting president to be indicted by International Criminal Court for directing a campaign of mass killing, rape and pillage against civilians in Darfur.

    Sudan: Sudan has experienced protracted social conflict and civil war. More than 2.5 million civilians have been killed in regional conflicts since the Arab-dominated government of Sudan began to impose its control over African minorities in the region. Continued clashes between government and rebel forces have killed tens of thousands of civilians and have displaced more than 2 million. A U.N. report said nearly 3 million people need humanitarian assistance.

    Syria: A conflict arising from the Arab Spring has pitted the Syrian government with various rebel groups since March 2011. The fighting has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced millions more. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are in refugee camps throughout the region and are fleeing to Europe, which is experiencing the largest migration crisis since World War Two.

    Sources: U.S. Holocaust Museum, United Nations, United to End Genocide, CIA World Factbook

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