Top 10 Genocides In The History

BY Shubhi Mathur, 10 Sep, 2017 

Global Jigyasa – Pandora’s Box

In the history of war crimes, genocide has been regarded as one of the most acute crimes against humanity. The word, ‘genocide’ was coined in the aftermath of the Holocaust by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, with the combination of the Greek word ‘geno’ meaning race or tribe and the Latin word, ‘-cide’ which means killing. Actions committed with the intention of destroying, either completely or partially, a national, ethnic, religious or racial group through killing, causing bodily harm, inflicting atrocities, and/or prevention of birth in that particular group come under the ambit of genocide. The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Protection of the Crime of Genocide (UNCPPCG) was adopted in 1948 and it came into force in 1951. Even though all nations of the world have not ratified the ‘Genocide Convention’ (UNCPPCG), they are still bound by international law and have an obligation to prevent and punish it. (Kitley, n.d.) Let us take a look at why the 20th century is referred to as century of genocides.

It is important to note though that there is a difference between genocide and massacre. In the case of massacres of people, there is no specific group or community that is being targeted like in the case of genocide. It is important to note that while a lot of examples from the 20th century below can be considered as genocides on practical grounds, legally they are not recognized as genocides. There are a lot of legal loopholes in the definition of genocide under the UNCPPCG which prevent incidents from being recognized as genocides. E.g. Some experts argue that all such instances that took place before the UNCCPCG and the definition of genocide was set in place, cannot be technically categorized as genocides but are simply considered as massacres.

Top 10 genocides in the history
  • Holocaust

The Holocaust was an organised, state-sponsored annihilation of 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime in Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. Besides Jews, victims of Holocaust include 200,000 Roma, 2-3 million Soviet prisoners of war, Polish intelligentsia, homosexuals, mentally and physically disabled, communists, socialists and trade unionists.  The years from 1942-1945 are painted black in the history of humanity due to this act of cruelty. (History, n.d.)

  • Holodomor

The Holodomor or the silent genocide occurred in the region of Ukraine from 1932-33. Many believe it was a systematic starvation of the peasants of Ukraine by the Stalin regime in the erstwhile Soviet Union. Certain historians place the number of casualties in the Holodomor at 3.3 million(BBC, 2013)

  • Cambodian Genocide

The South East Asian nation of Cambodia in a bid to impose a radical agrarian reform on the lines of Mao Zedong’s communist ideologies persecuted 2 million people from 1975 to 1979. People were made to continuously work on collective farms nonstop irrespective of age, gender and health. Religion was outlawed; factories, schools and universities were shut down and anyone educated was killed by the Khmer Rouge regime under the aegis of brutal leader Pol Pot(, n.d.) There are many arguments which assert that since these practices were not targeted at a specific community per se, this cannot be technically categorised as a genocide. However, it definitely was one for all practical purposes.

  • Armenian Genocide

The Armenian genocide began in 1915 by the Turkish government to eliminate the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians living in the Ottoman Empire. After the Young Turks were elected to power in Turkey, they started a methodical execution of intellectual Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians followed by sending them on death marches in the Mesopotamian desert without food or water. It is estimated that 1.5 million Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians lost their lives in this organised annihilation. However, Turkey does not recognise this event as genocide, and it was only in 2010 that the United States recognised this as genocide. (History, 2010)

  • Rwandan Genocide

The Rwandan genocide occurred due to prevailing tensions between the majority Hutu community and the minority Tutsi community. Before achieving independence in 1962, Rwanda was a Belgian colony where the Tutsis (minority group) were more influential committed atrocities against the Hutus. But when the Hutus came to power post-independence, they began carrying out mass atrocities against the minority Tutsi population of the country with a vengeance. In April and July, 1994, systematic persecution of the Tutsis took place in the country which was supported by the Rwandan army and the government in power back then. Over 1 million Tutsis were allegedly killed and millions of others were displaced. Most of these atrocities were carried out by an extremist Hutu militia group called the Interahamwe. The International Criminal Tribunal was set up in Rwanda for the trial of the perpetrators of the genocide. (BBC, 2014)

  • Bosnian Genocide

The Bosnian genocide followed in the aftermath of the disintegration of Yugoslavia from 1989-1993. In Bosnia, Muslims formed the largest single religious group with Serbs and Croats in minority in 1971. As the demand for a ‘Greater Serbia’ grew, Bosnian Serb forces, with the support of the Serb dominated Yugoslav army attacked Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and Croatians resulting in the annihilation of 100,000 people, i.e. 80 percent of Bosnia by 1995. In 1995, the Bosnian Serbs also attacked the UN protected area of Srebrenica where they systematically committed heinous sexual crimes on women while killing the men in mass killing sites. The International Court of Justice in 2001, declared Srebrenica massacre as genocide(History, 2018)

Bangladesh achieved independence from Pakistan in 1971. But this was preceded by a bloody war which claimed the lives of about 300,000 ethnic Bengalis. War crimes like mass rapes, deportation and massacre of civilians were carried out by the Pakistani Army and militias, particularly against the Hindu minority population. In 2010, Bangladesh set up International Crime Tribunals which convicted 26 people of genocide and crimes against humanity. (Bergman, 2017)

  • Kurdish Genocide

In 1987-88, Iraq was a Shia majority country with Kurds as a minority. Under the Saddam Hussien regime, more than 100,000 Kurds in the northern part of Iraq were systematically slaughtered. In March 1988, the Iraqi forces used chemical weapons on Kurds killing thousands of women, children and entire families. This campaign was called Al-Anfal, although Iraq refuses to accept it as a genocide. (Barbarani, 2014)

  • Guatemalan Genocide

The Guatemalan government is accused of committing genocide against the native Malay majority population. It was called the ‘Silent Holocaust’ and approximately 200,000 indigenous Malay people were persecuted. (BBC, 2013)

  • The Great Leap Forward

Mao Zedong, the revolutionary communist leader of China attempted radical agrarian reforms and social engineering at the cost of 45 million Chinese peasants. This mass starvation occurred during 1958-1971 and subsequently, a Cultural Revolution took place that led to the killing and imprisonment of anti-government elements. Due to a lack of credible information of these incidents, it is difficult to categorise this as genocide.

References for statistical information


BBC, A. (2014, April 7). Rwanda: 100 days of slaughter. BBC News. Retrieved from

History, S. (2010). Armenian Genocide – Facts & Summary. Retrieved May 10, 2018, from

Barbarani, S. (2014, April 14). Iraq Kurds press states to recognise genocide. Retrieved May 10, 2018, from

Bergman, D. (2017, December 21). Opinion | The Politics of Bangladesh’s Genocide Debate. The New York Times. Retrieved from

History, taff. (2018). Bosnian Genocide – Facts & Summary. Retrieved May 10, 2018, from

Cambodia | Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2018, from

BBC, L. A. (2013, May 11). Guatemala court jails ex-leader. BBC News. Retrieved from

BBC, E. (2013, November 23). Memories of Ukraine’s silent massacre. BBC News. Retrieved from

History, S. (n.d.). The Holocaust – World War II. Retrieved May 10, 2018, from

Kitley, G. (n.d.). .When to refer to a situation as genocide, 3.

Article originated from SKILLSPHERE


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