The simple truth of the ten stages of genocide

American scholar Gregory H Stanton outlined how the horrific process develops - and insisted at each stage it can be stopped

January 26, 2023 11:41

As we approach Holocaust Memorial Day and reflect on the murder of six million Jews, and on the genocides that have happened since in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, we probably think we have a pretty good idea of what a genocide is.

But genocide is a complex phenomenon. Although it is generally accepted that it is the gravest crime against humanity, there is little consensus on what constitutes genocide and even less on when it is appropriate to invoke the term.

What is indisputable, though, is the fact that genocide involves the destruction, in whole or in part, of a particular group of people, such as the systematic murder of six million Jews by Nazis during the Holocaust.

Jewish-Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin is widely recognised as the first person to coin the term “genocide” in the 1940s, as he sought to describe the state-sanctioned slaughter of Europe’s Jewish population, informed by what he had seen in the attempted destruction of Armenians.

Lemkin led a campaign to have genocide recognised and codified in international law as a crime and that happened in December 1948, when the UN General Assembly adopted the Genocide Convention. Countries signed up to the Convention have an obligation to “prevent and to punish” the crime of genocide.

Regrettably, genocides have continued to happen since the Holocaust: in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.

Having examined the conditions under which genocide happens and the parallels between genocides, American scholar Gregory H Stanton came up with his “ten stages of genocide”, including events that occur before, during and after a genocide.

He outlined these as Classification, Symbolisation, Discrimination, Dehumanisation, Organisation, Polarisation, Preparation, Persecution, Extermination and Denial.

He concluded that while some of these stages often occur simultaneously, identity-based persecution and prejudice can be entrenched over many years, even decades. “Genocide is a process that develops in ten stages that are predictable but not inexorable. At each stage, preventive measures can stop it,” Stanton said. In other words, it is possible to stop genocide before it happens.

It is impossible in this brief article to attempt anything like a detailed analysis of the ten stages, but it is important to remind ourselves of a simple truth at the heart of Stanton’s work: genocide never “just happens”.

It is a deliberate policy that comes out a process of decision-making and planning. The Holocaust did not come from nowhere; it built on centuries of prejudice, years of propaganda that was very deliberately fostered, and years of incremental oppression. In the words of Adama Dieng, a former Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, “The Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers.

It started with hate speech.” We should not see genocide as an inevitable crime, and clearly, a better understanding of the red flags can help us to speak out before things deteriorate.
Since the Holocaust, much of the civilised world stood in agreement that those horrors must never be repeated, but recent history shows otherwise.

And as we look around the world, we can see too many instances of grave concern. For example, “re-education” centres in the Xianjang province of China, where Uighur Muslims are imprisoned because of their faith and culture; targeted persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, because of their faith; mass atrocities against the Ukrainian people because of their nationality.

The need to remain vigilant and aware of the stages that can lead to genocide has never been more important.

Olivia Marks-Woldman is the chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

The stages of genocide explained

1. Classification – The differences between people are not respected. There’s a division of “us” and “them” that can be carried out using stereotypes or excluding people who are perceived to be different.

2. Symbolisation – This is a visual manifestation of hatred. Jews in Nazi Europe were forced to wear yellow stars to show that they were “different”.

3. Discrimination – The dominant group denies civil rights or even citizenship to identified groups. The 1935 Nuremberg Laws stripped Jews of their German citizenship, made it illegal for them to do certain jobs or to marry German non-Jews.

4. Dehumanisation – Those perceived as “different” are treated with no form of human rights or personal dignity. During the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, they were referred to as “cockroaches”; the Nazis referred to Jews as “vermin”.

5. Organisation – Genocides are always planned. Regimes of hatred train those who go on to carry out the destruction of a people.
6. Polarisation – Propaganda begins to be spread by hate groups. The Nazis used the newspaper Der Stürmer to spread and incite messages of hate about Jewish people.

7. Preparation – Perpetrators plan the genocide. They often use euphemisms such as the Nazi phrase “the final solution” to cloak their intentions. They create fear of the victim group, building up armies and weapons.

8. Persecution – Victims are identified because of their ethnicity or religion and death lists are drawn up. Following from this, people are sometimes segregated into ghettos, deported or starved and property is often expropriated. Genocidal massacres begin.

9. Extermination – The hate group murders their identified victims in a deliberate and systematic campaign of violence. Millions of lives have been destroyed or changed beyond recognition through genocides.

10. Denial – The perpetrators or later generations deny the existence of any crime.

January 26, 2023 11:41

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