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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.
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 and cited in this context as a euphemism akin to that of the "final solution", by the 1990s the term gained widespread acceptance in academic discourse in its generic meaning.
Ethnic cleansing vs. genocide
The crimes committed during an ethnic cleansing are similar to those of genocides, but while genocide includes an intent at complete or partial destruction of the target group, ethnic cleansing may involve murder only to the point of mobilizing the target group out of the territory. Hence there may be varied degrees of mass murder in an ethnic cleansing, often subsiding when the target group appears to be leaving the desired territory, while during genocide the mass murder is ubiquitous and constant throughout the process, continuing even while the target group tries to flee.
Ethnic cleansing is not to be confused with genocide; however, academic discourse considers both as existing 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, religious, or national group. Some academics consider genocide as a subset of "murderous ethnic cleansing." Thus, these concepts are different, but related; "literally and figuratively, ethnic cleansing bleeds into genocide, as mass murder is committed in order to rid the land of a people."
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 ... 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.— ECHR quoting the ICJ.
Origins of the term
As early as 1914, a Carnegie Endowment report on the Balkan Wars points out that village-burning and ethnic cleansing had traditionally accompanied Balkan wars, regardless of the ethnic group in power. During the Balkan Wars thousands of Albanians were massacred during the Serbian occupation of Kosovo, Macedonia and northern and central Albania. However, the term "cleanse" was probably used first in reference to removing ethnic groups from an area by Vuk Karadžić in describing what happened to the Turks in Belgrade when the city was captured by the Karadjordje's forces in 1806. Konstantin Nenadović wrote, in his biography of the famous Serbian leader published in 1883, that after the fighting "the Serbs, in their bitterness (after 500 years of Turkish occupation), slit the throats of the Turks everywhere they found them, sparing neither the wounded, nor the woman, nor the Turkish children".
"One must take advantage of the war conditions and at a suitable moment seize the territory marked on the map, cleanse [očistiti] it before anybody notices and with strong battalions occupy the key places (...) and the territory surrounding these cities, freed of non-Serb elements. The guilty must be promptly punished and the others deported – the Croats to (significantly amputated) Croatia, the Muslims to Turkey or perhaps Albania – while the vacated territory is settled with Serb refugees now located in Serbia."[unreliable source?]
However, the concept of ethnic cleansing was not restricted to Yugoslavia during this period. The Russian phrase очистка границ (ochistka granits "cleansing of borders") was used in Soviet Union documents of the early 1930s to refer to the forced resettlement of Polish people from the 22 km border zone in the Byelorussian SSR and Ukrainian SSR. This process was repeated on an even larger and wider scale in 1939–1941, involving many other ethnicities with allegedly external loyalties: see Involuntary settlements in the Soviet Union and Population transfer in the Soviet Union.
Most notoriously, the Nazi administration in Germany under Adolf Hitler applied a similar term to their systematic replacement of the Jewish people. When an area under Nazi control had its entire Jewish population removed, by driving the population out, by deportation to Concentration Camps and/or murder, that area was declared judenrein (lit. "Jew Clean"): "cleansed of Jews" (cf. racial hygiene).
Ethnic cleansing as a military, political and economic tactic
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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.
Ethnic cleansing as a crime under international law
There is no formal legal definition 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 the definitions for genocide or crimes against humanity of the statutes.
The UN Commission of Experts (established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780) held that the practices associated with ethnic cleansing "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 UN General Assembly condemned "ethnic cleansing" and racial hatred in a 1992 resolution.
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.
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 were not receiving adequate coverage.
Since that time, the term has been used by other ethnically oriented groups for situations that they perceive to be similar — examples include both sides in Ireland's Troubles, and the expulsion of ethnic Germans from former German territories during and after World War II.
Some observers,[who?] however, assert that the term should only be used to denote population changes that do not occur as the result of overt violent action, or at least not from more or less organized aggression – the absence of such stressors being the very factor that makes it "silent", although some form of coercion is still used. The United States practiced this during the Indian Wars of the 19th century.
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.
- Identity cleansing
- Communal violence
- Crime against humanity
- Ethnic Cleansing, a computer game.
- Genocidal massacre
- Population transfer
- Religious cleansing
- Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts Project (RULAC)
- Social cleansing
- Transmigration program
- White flight
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- Genocide of The Ethnic Germans in Yugoslavia 1944–1948
- Photojournalist's Account – Images of ethnic cleansing in Sudan
- Timothy V. Waters, On the Legal Construction of Ethnic Cleansing, Paper 951, 2006, University of Mississippi School of Law (PDF)
- Dump the “ethnic cleansing” jargon, group implores May 31, 2007, World Science
- Ethnic cleansing: Revival of an old tradition