Ethnic cleansing

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A refugee camp showing victims of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar.

Ethnic cleansing is the act of forcibly removing a certain ethnic, religious, or racial group from a given territory, usually by government mandate. The forces applied may be various forms of forced migration (deportation, population transfer), intimidation, as well as genocide and genocidal rape.

Ethnic cleansing is usually accompanied with 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.

Under international law, ethnic cleansing is defined as a crime against humanity by the International Criminal Court. 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.

Notable examples

  • The Holocaust is undoubtedly the most extreme case of ethnic cleansing in modern history. During World War II, millions of Jews were murdered or sent to concentration camps by the Nazi Party, with 90% percent of the Jewish population in Poland and 87% of the Jewish population in Germany and Austria being decimated.
  • Ethnic cleansing was widespread during the Yugoslav Wars, particularly during the Bosnian War. Pro-Serbian forces largely targeted Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), with a total combined 1,760,000 Croats and Bosniaks being internally displaced. War crimes were common, and included extrajudicial murder, torture, and rape.
  • Joseph Stalin ordered multiple ethnic cleansing campaigns during his tenure as leader of the Soviet Union. These mostly consisted of forced deportation of a majority of social and racial groups in the Soviet Union to Gulags or forced labor camps. Groups targeted included Kulaks, Poles, Koreans, Balkans, Tatars, Turks, Germans, Karachais, Chechens, and Kalmyks. In total, nearly 1,200,000 individuals were internally displaced, deported, exiled, or killed in Stalin's ethnic cleansing campaigns.
    • The Holodomor is a good example. It is considered by many historians as a genocidal famine perpetrated on the orders of Stalin that involved widespread ethnic cleansing of ethnic Ukrainians in Soviet Ukraine. Food and grain were forcibly seized from villages, internal borders between Soviet Ukraine and the Russian SSR were sealed to prevent population movement; movement was also restricted between villages and urban centers. Stalin's destruction of ethnic Ukrainians also extended to a wide-scale purge of Ukrainian intelligentsia, political elite and Party officials before and after the famine. A ban on the Ukrainian language and widespread Russification was also instilled. An estimated 2.5 to 8 million Ukrainians were exterminated in the famine. After liquidation, Stalin repopulated the territory with ethnic Russians.
  • The Islamic State have carried out acts of ethnic cleansing in their former territorial holdings in Iraq and Syria, mostly against Christians, Shi'a Muslims, and Yazidis. According to Amnesty International, all three of these communities have been all but eliminated in Northern Iraq. Following ISIS' loss of territory in these areas, the ethnic cleansing campaigns have ceased.
  • The Government of Sudan has been carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs in the region of Darfur since 2003, directing the Janjaweed militia to carry out mass killings, rapes, and even destruction and burning of whole villages. By the spring of 2004, several thousand people had been killed and as many as a million more had been driven from their homes, causing a major humanitarian crisis. The ICC have indicted a number of individuals, including Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, for their roles in perpetuating the campaign in Darfur, but nobody has yet to be formally convicted. The crisis is still ongoing as of 2019.
  • Since 2016, Myanmar's military-dominated government has forced over 620,000 ethnic Rohingya who live in the Rakhine state of northwest Myanmar to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Myanmar's government has cracked down on the Rohingya people and forced them to migrate to Bangladesh through violent actions, with rape, arson, and murder being reported.
  • Saddam Hussein's government carried out ethnic cleansing against Iraqi Kurds from 1986 to 1989. Known as the Anfal campaign, it was headed by Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin to President Hussein, and involved the use of ground offensives, aerial bombing, systematic destruction of settlements, mass deportation, firing squads, and chemical warfare (which was especially frequent and earned al-Majid the nickname "Chemical Ali".) According to estimates by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, at least a million of the country's estimated 3.5 million Iraqi Kurds were displaced and as many as 180,000 were killed.
  • The Khmer Rouge carried out ethnic cleansing against nearly every minority ethnic group in Cambodia during their rule of the country from 1975 to 1979 as part of the Cambodian Genocide. This included ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese and Thais. In the late 1960s, an estimated 425,000 ethnic Chinese lived in Cambodia; by 1984, as a result of Khmer Rouge genocide and emigration, only about 61,400 Chinese remained in the country. The small Thai minority along the border was almost completely exterminated, with only a few thousand managing to reach safety in Thailand. The Cham Muslims also suffered serious purges with as much as 80% of their population exterminated.
  • Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japan, the United States government forced the Japanese residing in the United States, including American citizens, to be brought to internment camps. Approximately 110,000 to 120,000 Japanese were relocated and incarcerated during World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the deportation and incarceration with Executive Order 9066, issued on February 19, 1942, which allowed local military commanders to designate "military areas" from which "any or all persons may be excluded."
  • The Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire during World War I resulted in nearly 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians being displaced, sent to concentration camps, or killed outright.
  • The 24-year occupation of East Timor by Indonesia, instigated by President Suharto, was basically a two-decade long ethnic cleansing campaign against the people of East Timor, and is considered to be a genocide by Oxford and Yale Universities. Indonesian paramilitary groups, such as Aitarak, killed or expelled large numbers of civilians. After the East Timorese people voted for independence in a 1999 referendum, the Indonesian paramilitaries retaliated, murdering some supporters of independence and leveling most towns. More than 200,000 people either fled or were forcibly taken to Indonesia before East Timor achieved full independence.
  • Many members of the Alt-Right support ethnic cleansing of non-whites, along with the creation of an all-white ethnostate. This plan is commonly referred to as the "Northwest Territorial Imperative".
  • Some have accused the Communist Party of China of committing ethnic cleansing in regards to their policies against Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang autonomous region. As of 2018, it is believed that close to one million Uyghurs are interred at secret re-education camps scattered throughout the region.
  • The Trail of Tears is considered an act of ethnic cleansing in regards to Native Americans in the United States. President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law on May 28, 1830. The law authorized the president to negotiate with southern Native American tribes for their removal to federal territory west of the Mississippi River in exchange for white settlement of their ancestral lands. The act has been referred to as a unitary act of systematic genocide, because it discriminated against an ethnic group in so far as to make certain the death of vast numbers of its population.
  • Ne Win's rise to power in Burma in 1962 and his relentless persecution of "resident aliens" (immigrant groups not recognised as citizens of the Union of Burma) led to an exodus of some 300,000 Burmese Indians. They migrated to escape racial discrimination and wholesale nationalisation of private enterprises a few years later in 1964.
  • The expulsion of the Chagossians from the Chagos Archipelago by the United Kingdom, at the request of the United States in order to establish a military base, started in 1968 and concluded in 1973.
  • Idi Amin Dada's regime in Uganda forced the expulsion in 1972 of Uganda's entire ethnic Asian population, mostly of Indian descent. Ironically, this would end up crashing Uganda's economy, as most Ugandan businesses were dominated by the Asian population.
  • The Taliban carried out ethnic cleasing against the Hazara peoples in Afghanistan while they were in power from 1996 to 2001, leaving an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 dead.
  • During and after World War II, many countries forcibly expelled their German populations, leading to the deaths of approximately 2.5 million Germans worldwide.
  • The forced relocation of Coloured individuals in South Africa to Bantustans during Apartheid-era South Africa can be considered ethnic cleansing.
  • The Effacer le tableau campaign against the Mbuti pygmies during the Second Congo War can be considered ethnic cleansing.