Crimes against humanity under Communist regimes

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Crimes against humanity have occurred under various Communist regimes. Actions such as forced deportation, terror,[1] ethnic cleansing, and the deliberate starvation of people such as during the Holodomor and the Great Leap Forward have been described as crimes against humanity.[2][3] In the 2008 Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism it was stated that crimes committed under communism were often crimes against humanity, according to the definition developed in the Nuremberg Trials, and that the crimes committed under Communism and National Socialism were comparable.[4] Very few people have been tried for these crimes, although Cambodia has prosecuted members of the Khmer Rouge[5] and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have passed laws that have led to the prosecution of several perpetrators for crimes against the Baltic peoples. They were tried for crimes committed during the Occupation of the Baltic states in 1940 and 1941, and during the reoccupation after the war. There were also trials for attacks by the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) on the Forest Brethren.[6]


There is a scholarly consensus that the Cambodian genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot in what became known as the killing fields was a crime against humanity.[7] Legal scholars Antoine Garapon, David Boyle and sociologist Michael Mann and professor of Political Science Jacques Semelin believe the actions of the Communist Party of Kampuchea are best described as a crime against humanity rather than genocide.[8] In 1997 the co prime ministers of Cambodia sought help from the United Nations in seeking justice for the crimes perpetrated by the communists during the years 1975 to 1979. During the month of June that same year Pol Pot was taken prisoner during an internal struggle within the Khmer Rouge and was offered to the international community. However, there were no countries willing to seek his extradition.[9] The policies enacted by the Khmer Rouge led to the deaths of one quarter of the population in just four years.[10]


In a speech before Parliament, President of Romania Traian Băsescu stated that "the criminal and illegitimate former communist regime committed massive human rights violations and crimes against humanity, killing and persecuting as many as two million people between 1945 and 1989"[11][12] The speech was based on the 660 page report of a Presidential Commission headed by Vladimir Tismaneanu, a professor at the University of Maryland. The report also said that “the regime exterminated people by assassination and deportation of hundreds of thousands of people,” and highlighted the Piteşti Experiment.[13] Gheorghe Boldur-Lăţescu has also said that the Piteşti Experiment was a crime against humanity,[14] and Dennis Deletant has described it as

An experiment of a grotesque originality .... (which) employed techniques of psychiatric abuse designed not only to inculcate terror into opponents of the regime but also to destroy the personality of the individual. The nature and the enormity of the experiment ... set Romania apart from the other Eastern European regimes.[15]

North Korea[edit]

Three victims of the prison camp system in North Korea with the aid of the Citizens Coalition for Human Rights of abductees and North Korean Refugees have attempted to bring Kim Jong-il to justice. In December 2010 they filed charges at The Hague.[16] The NGO group Christian Solidarity Worldwide has stated the gulag system appears to be designed specifically to kill a large number of the populace who are labelled as enemies or who have a differing political belief.[17]

China under Mao Zedong[edit]

Mao Zedong was the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, which took control in 1949, until his death in September 1976. During this time, he instituted several reform efforts, the most notable of which were the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. In January 1958, Mao launched the 5-year plan, the latter part of which was known as the Great Leap Forward. The plan was intended to expedite production and heavy industry as a supplement to economic growth, similar to the soviet model, and the defining factor behind Mao's "Chinese" Marxist policies.

Mao spent ten months of 1958 touring the country in order to gain support for the Great Leap Forwards and inspect the progress that had already been made. What this entailed was the humiliation, public castigation and torture of all who questioned the leap. The five-year-plan first instituted the division of farming communities up into communes. The Chinese National Programme for Agricultural Development (NPAD) began to accelerate their drafting plans for the countries industrial and agricultural outputs. The draft plans were initially successful as the Great Leap Forwards divided up the Chinese workforce and production soared (albeit briefly).[18] Eventually the planners developed even more ambitious goals, such as replacing the draft plans for 1962 with those for 1967, and the industries developed supply bottlenecks and could not meet the growth demands. Rapid industrial development came in turn with a swelling of urban populations. In 1959 due to the furthering of collectivization, heavy industry production and the stagnation of the farming industry that did not keep up with the demands of population growth in combination with a year of unfortunate weather in farming areas, only 170 million tons of grain were produced, far below what the population needed. Mass starvation ensued, and was only made worse by 1960, as even less grain was produced at 144 million tons.[19] The government instituted rationing, but between 1958 and 1962 it is thought that around 10 million people died of starvation alone. The famine did not go unnoticed, Mao was fully aware of the major famine sweeping the countryside but rather than try to fix the problem, he blamed it on counterrevolutionaries who were “hiding and dividing grain…”[20] Mao even symbolically decided to abstain from eating meat in honor of those who were suffering.[20]

Due to the widespread famine across the country there were many reports of cannibalism and horrific stories including that of a farmer from Hunan who was forced to kill and eat his own child. When questioned, he said he did it "out of mercy."[21] An original death toll estimate of the whole even ranged from 15-40 million. According to Frank Dikötter, a chair professor for humanities at the University of Hong Kong and author of Mao’s Great Famine, a book detailing the Great leap forward and the consequences of a strong armed economic reform, the total death count of the famine between 1958 and 1962 was upwards of 45 million. Of the death count, 6-8% of those who were killed prematurely by the government were often tortured first. 2% committed suicide and 5% died in Mao’s labor camps for those labelled as “enemies of the people.”[22] In an article from the New York Times, Dikötter also references severe punishments for slight infractions such as being buried alive for stealing a handful of grain or losing an ear and being branded for digging up a potato.[23] Higher up the chain of command, a chairman in an executive meeting in 1959 expressed apathy to the widespread suffering “When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.”[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kemp-Welch pp42
  2. ^ Rosefielde pp6
  3. ^ Karlsson pp5
  4. ^ Arvanitopoulos pp245
  5. ^
  6. ^ Naimark pp25
  7. ^ Totten pp359
  8. ^ Semelin pp344
  9. ^ Lattimer pp214
  10. ^ Jones pp188
  11. ^ Shawl, Jeannie. "Romania president says Communist regime committed crimes against humanity". Jurist. Archived from the original on 12 March 2011.
  12. ^ Clej, Petru (18 December 2006). "Romania exposes communist crimes". BBC.
  13. ^ Smith, Craig S. (19 December 2006). "Romanian Leader Condemns Communist Rule". New York Times. Retrieved 12 September 2011.
  14. ^ Boldur-Lăţescu pp22
  15. ^ Deletant, Dennis (1995). Ceauşescu and the Securitate: coercion and dissent in Romania, 1965–1989. pp. 29–33. ISBN 978-1-56324-633-3.
  16. ^ "Gulag survivors demand trial of Kim Jong-il for crimes against humanity". Asia News. 2 January 2010.
  17. ^ Jones pp216
  18. ^ Chan, Alfred L. (2001-06-07). Mao's Crusade: Politics and Policy Implementation in China's Great Leap Forward. OUP Oxford. p. 13. ISBN 9780191554018.
  19. ^ "The Great Leap Forward - History Learning Site". History Learning Site. Retrieved 2016-04-14.
  20. ^ a b Valentino, Benjamin A. (2005-12-08). Final Solutions: Mass Killing and Genocide in the 20th Century. Cornell University Press. pp. 127–132. ISBN 0801472733.
  21. ^ "A tragic episode of cannibalism during the famine of the Great Leap Forward (Graphic Content)". China Underground. Retrieved 2016-04-14.
  22. ^ "Synopsis". Retrieved 2016-04-14.
  23. ^ a b Dikötter, Frank (2010-10-01). Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 88. ISBN 9780802779281.


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