Ethnic cleansing is the systematic forced removal of ethnic or religious groups from a given territory by a more powerful ethnic group, with the intent of making it ethnically homogeneous. The forces applied may be various forms of forced migration (deportation, population transfer), intimidation, as well as mass murder and genocidal rape.
- As a crime under international law
- As a military political and economic tactic
- Silent ethnic cleansing
- Criticism of the term
Ethnic cleansing is usually accompanied with the efforts to remove physical and cultural evidence of the targeted group in the territory through the destruction of homes, social centers, farms, and infrastructure, and by the desecration of monuments, cemeteries, and places of worship.
Initially used by the perpetrators during the Yugoslav Wars (as etničko čišćenje=ethnic cleaning) and cited in this context as a euphemism akin to that of the "Final Solution", by the 1990s the term gained widespread acceptance due to journalism and the media's heightened use of the term in its generic meaning.
An antecedent to the term is the Greek word andrapodismos (Greek: ανδραποδισμός; lit. "enslavement"), which was used in ancient texts to describe atrocities that accompanied Alexander the Great's conquest of Thebes in 335 BC. In the early 1900s, regional variants of the term could be found among the Czechs (očista), the Poles (oczyszczanie), the French (épuration) and the Germans (Säuberung). A 1914 Carnegie Endowment report on the Balkan Wars noted that village burning and ethnic cleansing had traditionally accompanied conflicts in Southeastern Europe, and had been committed by all the area's ethnic groups throughout history.
During World War II, the euphemism čišćenje terena ("cleansing the terrain") was used by the Croatian Ustaše to describe military actions in which non-Croats were purposely killed or otherwise uprooted from their homes. Viktor Gutić, a senior Ustaše leader, was one of the first Croatian nationalists on record to use the term as a euphemism for committing atrocities against Serbs. The term was later used in the internal memorandums of Serbian nationalist guerrillas in reference to a number of retaliatory massacres they committed against Bosniaks and Croats between 1941 and 1945. The Russian phrase очистка границ (ochistka granits; lit. "cleansing of borders") was used in Soviet documents of the early 1930s to refer to the forced resettlement of Polish people from the 22-kilometre (14 mi) border zone in the Byelorussian and Ukrainian SSRs. This process was repeated on an even larger scale in 1939–41, involving many other groups suspected of disloyalty towards the Soviet Union. During The Holocaust, Nazi Germany pursued a policy of ensuring that Europe was "cleansed of Jews" (Judenrein). According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, the term "cleansing" was used in Israeli military documents dating to the 1948 Israeli–Arab war, referring to the expulsion of Arabs from Israel.
In the 1980s, the Soviets used the term "ethnic cleansing" to describe the inter-ethnic violence in Nagorno-Karabakh. At around the same time, the Yugoslav media used it to describe what they alleged was an Albanian nationalist plot to force all Serbs to leave Kosovo. It was widely popularized by the Western media during the Bosnian War (1992–95). The first recorded mention of its use in the Western media can be traced back to an article in The New York Times dated 15 April 1992, in a quote by an anonymous Western diplomat.
Synonyms include ethnic purification.
The Final Report of the Commission of Experts established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 defined ethnic cleansing as "a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas". In its previous, first interim report it noted, "[b]ased on the many reports describing the policy and practices conducted in the former Yugoslavia, [that] 'ethnic cleansing' has been carried out by means of murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extra-judicial executions, rape and sexual assaults, confinement of civilian population in ghetto areas, forcible removal, displacement and deportation of civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas, and wanton destruction of property. Those practices constitute crimes against humanity and can be assimilated to specific war crimes. Furthermore, such acts could also fall within the meaning of the Genocide Convention."
The official United Nations definition of ethnic cleansing is "rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove from a given area persons of another ethnic or religious group".
As a category, ethnic cleansing encompasses a continuum or spectrum of policies. In the words of Andrew Bell-Fialkoff:
[E]thnic cleansing [...] defies easy definition. At one end it is virtually indistinguishable from forced emigration and population exchange while at the other it merges with deportation and genocide. At the most general level, however, ethnic cleansing can be understood as the expulsion of a population from a given territory.
Terry Martin has defined ethnic cleansing as "the forcible removal of an ethnically defined population from a given territory" and as "occupying the central part of a continuum between genocide on one end and nonviolent pressured ethnic emigration on the other end".
In reviewing the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Bosnian Genocide Case in the judgement of Jorgic v. Germany on July 12, 2007 the European Court of Human Rights quoted from the ICJ ruling on the Bosnian Genocide Case to draw a distinction between ethnic cleansing and genocide.
The term 'ethnic cleansing' has frequently been employed to refer to the events in Bosnia and Herzegovina which are the subject of this case ... [UN] General Assembly resolution 47/121 referred in its Preamble to 'the abhorrent policy of 'ethnic cleansing', which is a form of genocide', as being carried on in Bosnia and Herzegovina. ... It [i.e. ethnic cleansing] can only be a form of genocide within the meaning of the [Genocide] Convention, if it corresponds to or falls within one of the categories of acts prohibited by Article II of the Convention. Neither the intent, as a matter of policy, to render an area "ethnically homogeneous", nor the operations that may be carried out to implement such policy, can as such be designated as genocide: the intent that characterizes genocide is "to destroy, in whole or in part" a particular group, and deportation or displacement of the members of a group, even if effected by force, is not necessarily equivalent to destruction of that group, nor is such destruction an automatic consequence of the displacement. This is not to say that acts described as 'ethnic cleansing' may never constitute genocide, if they are such as to be characterized as, for example, 'deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part', contrary to Article II, paragraph (c), of the Convention, provided such action is carried out with the necessary specific intent (dolus specialis), that is to say with a view to the destruction of the group, as distinct from its removal from the region. As the ICTY has observed, while 'there are obvious similarities between a genocidal policy and the policy commonly known as 'ethnic cleansing' ' (Krstić, IT-98-33-T, Trial Chamber Judgment, August 2, 2001, para. 562), yet '[a] clear distinction must be drawn between physical destruction and mere dissolution of a group. The expulsion of a group or part of a group does not in itself suffice for genocide.
As a crime under international law
There is no international treaty that specifies a specific crime of ethnic cleansing. However, ethnic cleansing in the broad sense—the forcible deportation of a population—is defined as a crime against humanity under the statutes of both International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The gross human-rights violations integral to stricter definitions of ethnic cleansing are treated as separate crimes falling under public international law of crimes against humanity and in certain circumstances genocide.
There are however situations, such as the expulsion of Germans after World War II, where ethnic cleansing has taken place without legal redress (see Preussische Treuhand v. Poland). Timothy V. Waters argues that if similar circumstances arise in the future, this precedent would allow the ethnic cleansing of other populations under international law.
Academic discourse considers both genocide and ethnic cleansing to exist in a spectrum of assaults on nations or religio-ethnic groups. Ethnic cleansing is similar to forced deportation or population transfer whereas genocide is the intentional murder of part or all of a particular ethnic, racial, religious, or national group. Some academics consider genocide as a subset of "murderous ethnic cleansing". Thus, these concepts are different, but related, as Norman Naimark writes: "literally and figuratively, ethnic cleansing bleeds into genocide, as mass murder is committed in order to rid the land of a people".
As a military, political and economic tactic
In 1946 Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad. The survivors of the German population were forcibly expelled and the city was repopulated with Soviet citizens. In the 1990s Bosnian war, ethnic cleansing was a common phenomenon. It typically entailed intimidation, forced expulsion and/or killing of the undesired ethnic group, as well as the destruction or removal of key physical and cultural elements. These included places of worship, cemeteries, works of art and historic buildings. According to numerous ICTY verdicts, both Serb and Croat forces performed ethnic cleansing of their intended territories in order to create ethnically pure states (Republika Srpska and Herzeg-Bosnia). Serb forces were also judged to have committed genocide in Srebrenica and Zepa at the end of the war.
Based on the evidence of numerous attacks by Croat forces against Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), the ICTY Trial Chamber concluded in the Kordić and Čerkez case that by April 1993, the Croat leadership from Bosnia and Herzegovina had a designated plan to ethnically cleanse Bosniaks from the Lašva Valley in Central Bosnia. Dario Kordić, the local political leader, was found to be the instigator of this plan.
In the same year (1993), ethnic cleansing was also occurring in another country. During the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, the armed Abkhaz separatist insurgency implemented a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the large population of ethnic Georgians. This was actually a case of trying to drive out a majority, rather than a minority, since Georgians were the single largest ethnic group in pre-war Abkhazia, with a 45.7% plurality as of 1989. As a result of this deliberate campaign by the Abkhaz separatists, more than 250,000 ethnic Georgians were forced to flee, and approximately 30,000 people were killed during separate incidents involving massacres and expulsions (see Ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia). This was recognized as ethnic cleansing by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe conventions, and was also mentioned in UN General Assembly Resolution GA/10708.
As a tactic, ethnic cleansing has a number of systemic impacts. It enables a force to eliminate civilian support for resistance by eliminating the civilians—recognizing Mao Zedong's dictum that guerrillas among a civilian population are fish in water, it removes the fish by draining the water. When enforced as part of a political settlement, as happened with the forced resettlement of ethnic Germans to the new Germany after 1945, it can contribute to long-term stability. Some individuals of the large German population in Czechoslovakia and prewar Poland had encouraged Nazi jingoism before the Second World War, but this was forcibly resolved. It thus establishes "facts on the ground"—radical demographic changes which can be very hard to reverse.
Silent ethnic cleansing
Silent ethnic cleansing is a term coined in the mid-1990s by some observers of the Yugoslav Wars. Apparently concerned with Western media representations of atrocities committed in the conflict—which generally focused on those perpetrated by the Serbs—atrocities committed against Serbs were dubbed "silent" on the grounds that they did not receive adequate coverage.
In many cases where accusations of ethnic cleansings have circulated, partisans have fiercely disputed such an interpretation and the details of the events which have been described as ethnic cleansing by academic or legal experts. This often leads to the promotion of vastly different versions of the event in question.
Criticism of the term
Gregory Stanton, the founder of Genocide Watch, has criticised the rise of the term and its use for events that he feels should be called "genocide": as "ethnic cleansing" has no legal definition, its media use can detract attention from events that should be prosecuted as genocide. Because of widespread acceptance after media influence, it has become a term used legally, but carries no legal repercussions as there is no legal definition.
In 1992, the German equivalent of ethnic cleansing" (German: Ethnische Säuberung) was named German Un-Word of the Year by the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache due to its euphemistic, inappropriate nature.