By Dr. Gregory H. Stanton
President, Genocide Watch
Genocide is a process that develops in ten stages that are predictable but not inexorable. At each stage, preventive measures can stop it.
The process is not linear. Stages may occur simultaneously. Each stage is itself a process. Logically, later stages are preceded by earlier stages. But all stages continue to operate throughout the process.
This processual model demonstrates that there is a logic to the genocidal process, though it does not proceed in a linear order. By helping us understand the logic of genocide, people can see the early warning signs of genocide and know when it is coming. Leaders can design policies to counteract the forces that drive each of the stages.
This stage model of the genocidal process was first set forth in 1987 in the Faulds Lecture at Warren Wilson College, "Blue Scarves and Yellow Stars: Classification and Symbolization in the Cambodian Genocide." The model was presented as a briefing paper, “The Eight Stages of Genocide” at the US State Department in 1996. Discrimination and Persecution have been added to the 1996 model.
I am grateful to many people for improvements in my original eight stage model, in particular to Prof. Alan Whitehorn of the Royal Military College of Canada, and Prof. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey for noting the gendered aspects of genocides.
No model is ever perfect. All are merely ideal-typical representations of reality that are meant to help us think more clearly about social and cultural processes. It is important not to confuse any stage with a status. Each stage is a process. It is like a fluctuating point on a thermometer that rises and falls as the social temperature in a potential area of conflict rises and falls. It is crucial not to confuse this model with a linear one. In all genocides, many stages occur simultaneously.
The purpose of this model is to place the risk factors in Barbara Harff’s pioneering analysis of country risks of genocide and politicide into a processual structure. Risks of political instability are characteristic of what Kuper called “divided societies,” with deep rifts in Classification. Targeted groups of state-led discrimination are victims of Discrimination. An exclusionary ideology is central to Discrimination and Dehumanization. Autocratic regimes foster the Organization of hate groups. An ethnically polarized elite is characteristic of Polarization. Lack of openness to trade and other influences from outside a state’s borders is characteristic of Preparation for genocide or politicide. Massive violation of human rights is evidence of Persecution. Impunity after previous genocides or politicides is evidence of Denial.
This model aims to describe the processes that lead to genocide and actions to oppose those processes. It goes beyond statistical risk factors to describe events that signal warnings of genocidal processes. It is a model to guide policy makers to take actions to prevent and stop genocide. It has been successfully applied by policy makers to prevent or stop genocides in Mozambique, East Timor, Kosovo, Macedonia, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Kenya. However, when national or world leaders lack the political will to prevent genocide, thousands of people die.
Ultimately the best antidote to genocide is popular education and the development of social and cultural tolerance for diversity. That is why Genocide Watch and the Alliance Against Genocide hope to educate people around the world to resist genocidal forces whenever they see them.
Finally the movement that will end genocide must come not from international armed interventions, but rather from popular resistance to every form of discrimination; dehumanization, hate speech, and formation of hate groups; rise of political parties that preach hatred, racism or xenophobia; rule by polarizing elites that advocate exclusionary ideologies; police states that massively violate human rights; closure of borders to international trade or communications; and denial of past genocides or crimes against humanity against victim groups.
The movement that will end genocide in this century must arise from each of us who have the courage to challenge discrimination, hatred, and tyranny. We must never let the wreckage of humanity's barbaric past keep us from envisioning a peaceful future when law and democratic freedom will rule the earth.
For those who doubt there is any direction in history, our common humanity is enough to give meaning to our cause. To those of us who know that history is not some directionless accident, this is our calling and our destiny. John F. Kennedy said, “On earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”
© 2020 Gregory H. Stanton.