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Ethnic Cleansing – Everything You Need To Know About It

You hear the words war crimes and ethnic cleansing bantered about, but what are these terms exactly. This article will tell you what ethic cleaning is, is it illegal, is it a war crime, is it genocide, what are examples of ethnic cleansing, and the collateral damages of ethnic cleansing.

What is Ethnic Cleansing?

The United Nations has defined ethnic cleansing as “…the coercive practices used to remove the civilian population can include: murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial executions, rape and sexual assaults, severe physical injury to civilians, 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, use of civilians as human shields, destruction of property, robbery of personal property, attacks on hospitals, medical personnel, and locations with the Red Cross/Red Crescent emblem, among others.” I would add that ethic cleansing is done by an organized group, *another ethnic group“,  or as an official Government policy.

Ethnic Cleansing

Is Ethnic Cleansing Illegal?

According to the United Nations it CAN be illegal. An U.N. Commission of Experts stated that these practices can   “… 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.”  So many acts of ethical cleaning are clearly “crimes against humanity” such as murder (genocide), attacks against hospitals, and rapes. Other “coercive practices” of ethnic cleansing can be deemed legal to the powers to be. While the same practices to others would be considered as illegal and a crime against humanity. Examples of this would be displacement of a civilian population, forcible removal of civilians, or confining a civilian population.

Is Ethnic Cleansing a War Crime or Another Word for Genocide?

The short answer is no. Under international law ethnic cleansing is not recognized as a standalone crime. However, the practice of ethnic cleansing may constitute genocide or a war crime. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has the following definitions that help to distinguish genocide and war crimes from ethnic cleansing and its practices:

  • Genocide. It is defined as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Though ethnic cleaning may clearly lead to genocide.
  • War Crimes. These are serious violations of international humanitarian law and occur in the state of armed conflict. War crimes can including attacks on civilians, forcibly recruiting and using child soldiers, and destruction of educational and religious institutions.  See Unvarnished Facts’ What Are War Crimes? for more details.

What are some Examples of Ethnic Cleansing?

The term ethical cleansing came into use in the 90’s, but there are numerous examples of ethnic cleansing throughout the ages. This coercive practice is not isolated to one group of people or type of government. Below are some examples:

  • Europe – Middle Ages – Ethnic Cleansing of Jews and Muslims. Jews were the target of many episodes of religious cleansing in many countries in Europe. Spain expelled both Jews and Muslims.
  • North America – 19th century – Native Americans Resettled. Native Americans were forced to resettle on reservations.
  • Germany – pre-World War II – Ethnic Cleansing of Jews and Gypsies. The Nazi regime started with ethnic cleansing via deportation and other coersive practices. Eventually, this turned to genocide and the “final solution“.
  • Bosnia – 1990s – Expultion of Bosnian Muslims. Bosnian Serb forces waged a systematic campaign—including forced deportation, murder, torture and rape—to expel Bosniaks from territory in eastern Bosnia.

See Ethnic Cleansing for more details.

War Crimes

Collateral Damage of Ethnic Cleansing.

Besides ethnic cleansing being a coercive practice against a civilian population, there is also significant colateral damage that can affect vast regions and many countries. Princeton University’s The Use of Ethnic Cleansing in the ‘Resolution’ of Self-determination Conflicts: Learning the Lessons from Twentieth Century Europe? identifies several geo-political problems with forced population transfers. This includes:

  • Economic Devastation and Material Losses. Material losses can be as bad as a total war for the regions affected.
  • Instability in the Receiving State. A rapid influx of refugees into a region can quickly turn to chaos.
  • Instability in the Expelling State. The rule of law can quickly spin out of control with unintended consequences.
  • Citizenship. Citizenship is at best ambiguous for the deported population.
  • Bilateral Relations Between Receiving and Expelling State. Ethnic cleansing will result in much friction between the different regions and countries affected.

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