Crimes of War & the Genocide Convention

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  • 0:01 Defining Genocide
  • 1:37 Steps of Genocide
  • 4:08 Combating Genocide
  • 5:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
The following lesson will cover how crimes of war and genocide are identified, as well as the steps taken to prevent them from reoccurring. A short quiz will follow to check your understanding.

Defining Genocide

If you've ever been fortunate enough to visit a country other than your own, or even another state, you've probably realized that cultures can differ significantly from one place to another. Nevertheless, every culture has shared ideas of how human beings should treat one another. In general, there is a global agreement that human beings, simply because we exist, are entitled to three types of rights.

The first are civil rights, which include personal freedoms, such as the freedom of speech and religion. The second are political rights, which include the ability to participate in the political process, namely by being able to vote. The final type of rights are social rights, which include the freedom to enjoy basic social benefits, such as the freedom to be secure from violence and danger, the right to a decent standard of living, and the right to health care and education. In other words, these are things we almost take for granted while living in the United States.

Unfortunately, there are periods in history where one culture's political and social beliefs have come into conflict with another culture's. Sometimes, this disagreement can escalate to the point of the mass extinction of a group of people. The systematic mass murder of an ethnic, religious, or national group based on discriminatory preconceptions is called genocide. The most classic and well-known case of genocide was the systematic extermination of Jews, Gypsies, and other groups by the Nazis during the Holocaust of World War II. There have been, however, many other examples of genocide throughout the history of the world, most of which have occurred during the 20th century.

Steps of Genocide

It's almost impossible to think that people could treat other people in this harsh of a manner. Unfortunately, it does happen. However, it doesn't happen overnight. In fact, there are roughly eight stages that comprise the genocide process. The first is the identification stage, where people are put into categories determined by such things as race, religion, or location. This creates an 'us versus them' mentality. So, for instance, I can be put in the category of a white male Chicagoan.

The second stage is the symbolism stage, where 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.

Dehumanization is when 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. And that's the key part of any genocide. If a person feels that the person they hate is not part of their humanity, then they can justify doing any number of horrible things.

Note that genocide is always organized by the state, though sometimes informally, or by terrorist groups. And during the next stage of polarization, extremists drive the groups apart. For example, hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda, or there may be new laws that ban things such as cultural or racial intermarriage or social interaction.

Before the actual act of extermination takes place, genocides will often reach the preparation stage, where victims are identified and separated by their previously determined identification. Death lists may be drawn up and members of victim groups may be forced to wear identifying symbols. Groups are also often segregated into ghettos, forced into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. Once this happens, then a cultural group proceeds into the extermination stage, where mass killings against another cultural group occur.

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