Settling The Genocide V. Ethnic Cleansing Debate: Ending Misuse Of The Euphemism Ethnic Cleansing.

Date22 March 2022
AuthorKirby-McLemore, Jennifer

Table Of Contents Origins and Definitions Origins of the Term Definitions: Legal and Common Applicable Law, Euphemism, and the Resulting Harm Ethnic Cleansing and the Techniques of Neutralization Denial of Responsibility Denial of Injury Denial of Victim Denial of Humanity Euphemisms as Indicators of Crime Euphemism and Sex Trafficking Euphemism and Genocide Recommendations On genocide denial:

"We must fight denials because the denial of genocide is ... a process which is intended to desensitize and make possible the emergence of new forms of genocidal violence to peoples in the future. "--Israel Charny (1)

On euphemism:

"... what we may find tricky is to distinguish for certain between the acceptable and the unacceptable, between that which obeys the truth of the heart and that which tells a harmful or horrible lie. How can we tell, Robert M. Adams asks, 'the fraudulent from the authentic euphemism, the specious moral pickpocket from the considerate and soft-spoke idealist?' ... [Especially when] communications proliferate, people expect to be informed, and the powers that be--however much they would prefer to keep a dignified silence--must find a language in which to inform or misinform, to justify, extenuate or deceive." (2)

In 2007, researchers and scholars Blum, Stanton, Sagi, and Richter revealed that effective genocide intervention depended, in part, upon the willingness of journalists, governments, and human rights organizations to use the term genocide instead of the term ethnic cleansing. (3) In the study, Blum et al. conducted word-filtering searches of the New York Times, United Nations (UN) press releases, and human rights organizations' reports to compare the number of times "genocide" was used with the number of times "ethnic cleansing" was used leading up to, during, and after infamous genocides between 1990 and 2005. (4) Their results showed that whether the atrocities were labelled as ethnic cleansing or genocide had little to do with the actual harm committed, which, for the purposes of their study, was measured by death count. (5) Instead, the pattern that emerged from the wordsearch was that only after entities began to acknowledge the atrocities as genocides did any effective intervention take place. (6) The researchers concluded that the term ethnic cleansing "bleaches the atrocities of genocide and its continuing use undermines the prevention of genocide." In furtherance of this study and Dr. Gregory Stanton's endeavor to expunge ethnic cleansing from the legal lexicon, this article provides recommendations for rectifying the term's harm by imploring journalists, governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to stop using the term ethnic cleansing and suggests that courts recognize perpetrators' use of this and other genocidal euphemisms as evidence of genocidal intent.

To begin, this article introduces key terminology, parsing out the differences between the legal and common definitions of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The article then demonstrates how the term ethnic cleansing--a euphemism for genocide--is unnecessary in the context of international law, given that a law against forced displacement and a law against genocide already exist. Next, the article applies a criminological analysis to explore why journalists, governments, and other interested parties, use the term ethnic cleansing and why such use often equates to genocide denial. Turning toward a solution-centered conclusion, the article examines other euphemisms for genocide and considers the similarities between the use of those euphemisms for the crime of genocide with euphemisms for the crime of sex trafficking. In light of these similarities, the article recommends that (1) governments, media, NGOs, and courts stop using the euphemism in place of genocide; (2) early warning analysts develop a detection and tracking mechanism for genocidal euphemisms used by perpetrators; and (3) courts recognize the use of these euphemisms as evidence of genocidal intent.

  1. Origins And Definitions

    1. Origins of the Terms

      The term "genocide" was the brainchild of Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish jurist who fled Nazi-occupied Europe. (7) In 1944, as the venerable Lemkin toiled with the question of how to adequately name the "mass obliteration of nationhoods[,]" he articulated the need to coin a new term. (8) Though he acknowledged the Nazi's systematic murder of European Jews (9) was the "most striking and most deliberate and thorough" example of the destruction of "ethnic and religious groups[,]" Lemkin was keenly aware of similar acts of violence carried out against Armenians, Christians, Muslims, and minority groups throughout history. (10) Thus, to label this "crime without a name" (11) that involved "a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups," (12) Lemkin settled on an encompassing term that combined genos--, from the Greek word for race or tribe, with -cide, from the Latin suffix for killing. (13) Thereafter, Lemkin spearheaded efforts to establish an international law against genocide. Such efforts came to fruition in 1948, when the UN signed the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention). (14)

      Given its ubiquity in twenty-first century discussions of international human rights, the term "ethnic cleansing" has a remarkably different origin story. The word itself is the English translation of an old Serbo-Croatian phrase "etnicko ciscenje." (15) It was not until April 1987 that the term, as it is understood today, began to take shape. At that time, Slobodan Milosevic, the former President of Yugoslavia, who was being indicted by the UN International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for crimes against humanity, used the term to describe the particular type of violence being carried out by Kosovar Albanians against the Serbs to force them from Kosovo. (16) Thereafter, the term was employed as propaganda, indicating a "term of approval" whereby certain ethnicities were cleared out of specific regions during the Bosnian and Croatian genocides. (17)

      From there, the term began to permeate every corner of the globe. First, the term was picked up by journalists--the Times of London in July 1991, followed shortly by Reuters. (18) By July 1992, the term found its way into a New York Times in a piece by John F. Burns ("the precondition for [the] creation [of Greater Serbia] lies in the purging--'ethnic cleansing' in the perpetrators' lexicon--of wide areas of Bosnia of all but like-minded Serbs"). (19) Though Burns prefaced his use of the term appropriately by attributing it to the perpetrators of the genocide, the damage was done--the term had already cemented itself into article. New York Times writer William Safire remarked--in reference to the use of the term "ethnic cleansing" and the ongoing Bosnian genocide--that:

      If the practice is not stopped, the term will continue in active use; if the world forces the forcible separation and killing to end, the phrase ethnic cleansing will evoke a shudder a generation hence much as final solution does today--as a phrase frozen in history, a terrible manifestation of ethnocentrism gone wild. (20) Just as Safire warned, this "practice" continued. Governments and journalists looked on--tossing about the term "ethnic cleansing" while genocide unfolded in the Balkans. (21) Though over 100 countries at the time had accepted the obligations to prevent and stop genocide as parties to the Genocide Convention, (22) another two years passed between Safire's warning and NATO intervention in Bosnia. (23)

      With governments unwilling to call this unfettered forcible separation and killing "genocide," the media interpreted this silence as permission to use "ethnic cleansing" as a viable term of art for mass atrocity, rather than requiring them to look past the term's euphemistic veneer. Politicians, academics, and the public at large followed suit. In 1993, a Bosnian foreign minister used the phrase to describe the "disintegration of Yugoslavia and the Nazi atrocities of the 1930s." (24) By 1994, a year before the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia signed the Dayton Peace Accords, ending the Yugoslav Wars, scholars were already producing academic articles not only discussing the term in relation to the mass deaths and expulsion in Bosnia and Croatia but also as a presumptively accepted term for this specific form of violence. (25)

      Now, thirty-years on from its first appearance in the New York Times, ethnic cleansing is a universally wielded term. In fact, today, if you run a search for "ethnic cleansing" on any online academic or legal secondary source database, your search would yield thousands of results, demonstrating how a term--made popular by the genocidaire Milosevic--has smuggled itself successfully into our mainstream vocabulary.

    2. Definitions: Legal and Common

      As often discussed by genocide scholars, the word "genocide" carries "enormous emotive meaning" both in our common understanding and its legal meaning. (26) In our day-to-day speech, we use genocide to describe the most condemnable mass killings. (27) In the legal realm, the word is a term of art that "ascribe[s] criminal liability" (28) when the intent to "deliberately] and systematically] destr[oy], in whole or in part, ... an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group" is present. (29)

      Though scholars and lawyers debate the legal interpretation of genocide, (30) the conflicting definitions of ethnic cleansing are even more perplexing. The common definitions vary widely. On the one hand, ethnic cleansing is defined as the "systematic and violent removal of undesired ethnic groups from a given territory." (31) This definition is used to distinguish ethnic cleansing--as a form of violence--from genocide by its intent to merely remove a group from an area rather than to...

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