Ethnic Cleansing

Ethnic cleansing is the systematic, forced removal of ethnic, racial, or religious groups, through displacement, deportation, or mass killings, from one territory, region, or country by a more powerful ethnic group with the intent of establishing an ethnically homogenous area.

History is plagued with cleansing campaigns, but there were several unprecedented campaigns in the 20th century including the Turkish massacre of the Armenians during World War I, the Nazi extermination of 6 million European Jews during World War II, the forced displacement and mass killings of Bosnian Muslims and Croatian civilians in the former Yugoslavia, as well as the Tutsi people in Rwanda, and the forced displacement and removal of the Rohingya Muslim people from Myanmar.

While many argue that there is no difference between genocide and ethnic cleansing, it is important to note that the main goal of genocide is to destroy an entire ethnic, racial, or religious group, while the goal of ethnic cleansing is to create an ethnic homogenous area, which can be accomplished through deportation and does not need to include mass killing.

Although ethnic cleansing has not been formally recognized as a violation of international law, the UN-mandated a Commission of Experts to investigate the acts committed by the former Yugoslavia. The Commission of Experts concluded that ethnic cleansing constitutes crimes against humanity and can be assimilated to specific war crimes.” They added that “such acts could also all within the meaning of the Genocide Convention.”