Ethnic Cleansing

Ethnic cleansing means banishing members of an unwanted ethnic group to establish an ethnically-consistent geographic area. This may be done through deportation, displacement, or even mass killings. The rise of extreme nationalist movements during the 20th century led to an unprecedented level of ethnically motivated brutality. Events included the Turkish massacre of Armenians during World War I, the Nazi Holocaust annihilation of six million European Jews, and the forced displacement and mass killings carried out in the former Yugoslavia and the African country of Rwanda during the 1990s.

Definition of Ethnic Cleansing

In the 1990s, after the former Yugoslavia disintegrated and conflicts erupted, “ethnic cleansing” was widely used to describe the suffering of particular ethnic groups. When the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence in 1992, the Bosnian Serbs systematically forced deportations, murdered, tortured, and raped Bosnian Muslim and Croatian civilians.

Ethnic Cleansing Versus Genocide

There was a longstanding debate about the difference between ethnic cleansing and genocide, which was labeled an international crime by the United Nations in 1948. The debate intensified during the events in Darfur, Sudan. Some people say the two terms are equal. Others argue that the main goal of genocide is to physically destroy entire racial, ethnic, or religious groups; while the aim of ethnic cleansing is to establish ethnic uniformity, which does not necessarily mean mass killings if it can be achieved by other methods. During the 1990s, the ongoing brutalities committed in Bosnia and Rwanda were referred to as ethnic cleansing. By accepting this description, the U.S. and other U.N. Security Council members avoided calling these acts “genocide,” which would require intervention under international law.

During the 1990s, two international U.N. tribunals debated the exact legal definition for ethnic cleansing. One linked ethnic cleansing specifically to genocide, “crimes against humanity,” and “war crimes,” stating that ethnic cleansing could include all three of those other offenses. Despite controversy over its exact definition, ethnic cleansing is clearly covered under international law.

Source: Ethnic Cleansing
© 2017, A&E Television Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Back to top