“Genocide is not the predictable end product of a clearly worked out plan but a contingent outcome of a complex set of social and political process.”1
A genocide doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that consists of several phases. These phases are predictable but not unstoppable. Measures to prevent the spread of a genocide can be taken at any given point in time.
Even though this article contains a list of 10 phases, there is not always a linear progression between them; some phases overlap and the transitions between them are often fluent.
The following text has been adapted from the work of the president of Genocide Watch, Gregory H. Stanton.
# 1. Classification
In all cultures and languages, people and objects are categorised so as to differentiate between them. Classifications such as ethnicity, race and religion are man-made social constructs that are used to distinguish the “us” from the “other”.
These classifications are often very extreme and elaborate – such as the Nazi’s Nürnberger Gesetze, or the segregation laws in America and South Africa.
Racist societies often forbid marriages between people from different groups or view miscegenation (the marriage and/or procreation between people of different races/ethnic groups) as illegal.
Genocides frequently take place in these types of bipolar societies.
Prevention: In this phase, worldwide institutions should be established and made accessible for everybody regardless of skin colour, race or ethnicity. Social barriers should be overcome, and tolerance and understanding have to be taught and implemented. It is especially important in this phase to find similarities between the different groups in question.
# 2. Symbolisation
Names, symbols and visible features – such as skin colour, tribal marks or certain items of clothing – are often used to label a group of people. It is common during the preparation phase that people are requested by the government to wear particular symbols or clothes so that they can be easily identified. Jews in the Third Reich, for instance, had to wear a yellow star on their clothes; and people from the eastern part of Cambodia were required to wear a blue scarf.
Prevention: The creation of laws that prohibit all types of hate speech and symbols.
# 3. Discrimination
The dominant group uses laws, conventions and political power to deny another group’s rights. Their civil rights and citizenship can, for example, be revoked.
Jews in Nazi-Germany had their citizenship revoked, and were not allowed to work for the government or at universities.
Prevention: It has to be guaranteed that all people in a society are equal/have the same rights, and that they are politically involved and authorised. Discrimination due to nationality, ethnicity, race or religion has to be prohibited by law. Additionally, individuals/groups need to have the opportunity to sue the State, corporations or other individuals/groups should their rights be infringed.
Once the dehumanisation phase begins, classification and symbolisation become indications of genocide. During this fourth phase, the group of victims is denied humane treatment in order for the perpetrators to be able to avoid any moral conflict in their deeds. The perpetrators are under the impression that there will be no consequences for their murders. The victims are often named after animals, such as rats, parasites or cockroaches; or they are called scum, disease, infection, or even a cancer to society. As a result, the victims are often not simply killed but also maimed in order to eliminate their last remaining humane features. Hate propaganda is circulated in the media.
Prevention: National and international politicians and leading figures should condemn hate speech and stigmatise it as culturally unacceptable. A travel ban should be imposed on people who incite genocide and their foreign bank accounts should be frozen. Any hate crimes and acts of violence must be prosecuted immediately.
# 5. Organisation
A genocide is never executed by one person. It is usually organised by a state that, in turn, uses militia in order to exempt itself from any blame or responsibility. The organisation phase doesn’t have to be complex or detailed – simple structures are sufficient. An approach as organised and bureaucratic as the Nazis’ remains the exception. Group structure can be informal or even decentralised, as is for example the case with terrorist organisations. So-called death squads, specialised in mass murder, often roam the country to force their fellow countrymen to participate.
Prevention: The United Nations should impose an arms embargo on governments and citizens who are involved in massacres. It should be illegal to be part of the militia and their leaders should be denied international travel visas. Additionally, investigatory committees for these crimes should be established.
# 6. Polarisation
Hate propaganda is spread in order to polarise the society. It is possible to introduce laws that prohibit marriages or social interactions between different groups. Firstly, moderately minded people who reject murder and extremism and their families are dealt with. The extremists further the polarisation until such a time when peace negotiations become impossible.
Prevention: Security protection has to be guaranteed for moderate leaders and human rights groups. The extremists’ assets should be seized and any applications for international travel visas should be rejected. Attempted coups should be met with international sanctions.
# 7. Preparation
Group leaders plan the “final solution”. They often use euphemisms to cover up their real intentions. There is talk of “ethnic cleansing” or “the fight against terrorism”. Armies are raised, weapons are bought and soldiers are trained. The general public is told that the victim group poses a risk to them, and the claim “If we don’t kill them, they will kill us!” is propagated.
Prevention: In this phase, international weapons embargoes should be issued and commissions should be employed to ensure they are being monitored and enforced. Incitement and conspiracy to commit genocide should be punished in accordance with Article 3 of the United Nation’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
# 8. Persecution
In this phase, victims are identified and sorted due to their race, ethnicity or religion. Death lists are drawn up, victims are expropriated and possibly forced to wear a symbol identifying them as a member of the victim group. The victims are often deported to specific places such as ghettos or concentration camps, or sent away to regions suffering from famine. There, the massacres begin.
Prevention: The global community should declare a state of emergency and announce their intent to intervene. The great powers, regional associations and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) should intervene with force, or prepare the victim group for self-defence and provide support and aid. The United Nations and other organisations should prepare for the humanitarian emergency, and set up refugee camps.
# 9. Destruction
During this phase, the final destruction of the group is realised and the people are slaughtered. There is talk of destruction rather than murder because, in the eyes of the perpetrators, the victims are no longer human. The entire group is eradicated; children, sick or old people are not spared. The dead are violated, the bodies mutilated, burnt, thrown into mass graves – or just left behind.
Prevention: In this phase, only a fast and vigorous armed intervention by the global community can stop the genocide. So-called safe havens, security sectors, refugee camps and escape corridors with heavily armed international protection should be established. The UN, EU, NATO and other regional armed forces should be authorised by the UNSC to intervene in the conflict. Since the International Responsibility to Protect exceeds all involved countries’ interest, regional alliances should still step in should a situation arise where the UN is unable to act. If the large states do not wish to provide any military forces, they should provide the regional states with financial support, and supply them with equipment and/or aid via airlift.
# 10. Denial
Every genocide is followed by denial. Mass graves are filled up and hidden, corpses are burnt, records destroyed or locked away, witnesses are intimidated, the number of victims is trivialised. Reports are dismissed as propaganda and branded as lies. Any claims that a crime was committed are refuted, and the individuals/groups responsible blame the victims. Investigations are blocked. A discussion is started to determine if the crimes fall under the legal definition of genocide. It is usually argued that the disputed acts fall under the definition of civil war. However, genocide and civil war are not exclusive. Although a genocide can happen in times of peace, it frequently happens in times of war.
Prevention: In order to prevent future genocides, all acts of genocides have to be met with justice. Only if the perpetrators are punished and the victims obtain justice, can they look ahead. If no punishment is given, the victims will look for revenge and the cycle of murder begins anew. If an atrocity like that remains unpunished, it will lead to more genocides.2 Even Hitler once said: “Who, after all, talks nowadays of the annihilation of the Armenians?“3
# Jones, A. (2010) Genocide- A Comprehensive Introduction. 2nd edition. London and New York: Routledge.
# Stanton, G.- The 10 Stages of Genocide (2013) available at: http://www.genocidewatch.org/genocide/tenstagesofgenocide.html (18.07.2014).
# Stanton, G.- The 8 Stages of Genocide (1996) available at: http://www.genocidewatch.org/aboutgenocide/8stagesofgenocide.html (18.07.2014).
# Spencer, P. (2012) Genocide since 1945 – Making of the Contemporary World. London and New York: Routledge.
1 Spencer (2012), S. 30.
2 Stanton, G. (1996 und 2013)
3 Jones(2010) S. 149