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Introduction International Federation of Social Workers IFSW




        Genocide has mired the history of humanity for centuries. In the 20th century

alone, arguably, there have been multiple acts of genocide.

        The profession of social work, with its continued commitment to human rights,

has worked with populations who are most vulnerable. Social workers have assisted

survivors of traumatic events like genocide since the inception of the profession.

Survivors of genocide have received assistance from social workers in their home

countries, where the attempted annihilation of their group occurred.

        The knowledge that mental anguish continues after the physical trauma has

persuaded many social workers to aid victims after the turmoil ends. In addition, social

workers have advocated for individuals who have fled their home country and sought

protection in neighboring and also, if and when possible, in First World countries. The

International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) is committed to continuing this work.

An examination of the various causes of genocide is necessary to provide a strong stance

on the issue.


        On December 9, 1948, the United Nation‟s General Assembly adopted the

international treaty Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of

Genocide, which states:

“…genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole

or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

       Killing members of the group;
       Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

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      Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its
       physical destruction in whole or in part;
      Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
      Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” (Article 2)

       According to the Convention, the acts of genocide—conspiracy to commit

   genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit

   genocide, and complicity in genocide—are punishable. Individuals or groups

   committing these acts will be punished regardless of their status—that is, whether

   they are responsible rulers, public officials, or private individuals.

       Genocide has claimed the lives of more than 60 million people in the past century

   alone. Approximately 16 million people were killed after the convention‟s resolution

   (Smith, 2004). Genocide often occurs when groups in power attempt to annihilate a

   people on the basis of their group membership (race, ethnicity, religion, language).

   The outcomes of genocide are not only the mental and physical effects on the

   survivors, but also the financial strains of host countries that are directly affected,

   when it involves housing the refugees and assisting those various groups (Smith,


       The definition of genocide under the Convention is a complex one. Designating

   incidents in history that fit within this context is an even more challenging task. There

   is an ongoing debate by scholars of genocide as to which of the horrendous

   occurrences in history should be labeled genocidal.

       Although the argument as to what incidents constitute genocide is ongoing, eight

stages of genocide have been agreed upon by multiple experts on the issue. The eight

stages of genocide—classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization,

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polarization, preparation, extermination, and denial—explain the process in which

genocide is developed (Stanton, 1996).

Classification: Although societies categorize their populations by groups (for example,

race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality), the categorization in bipolar societies, such as

Rwanda and Burundi, often ends in genocide by the government or groups in power.

Symbolization: Symbolization, paired with hatred, is the second stage of genocide.

Societies often regularly appoint visual identification to groups; this act, independent of

hate, bears no cause for alarm. However, periods in history wherein symbols were tied to

hatred, distinguishing particular groups from other groups for the sole purpose of

degradation and harm (the third stage), is an indicator for genocide.

Dehumanization: In this stage, action is taken against groups in humiliating and often

labeling them as inhumane. This sentiment is often carried in various ways, including

propaganda throughout the media, stating why labeling particular groups as enemies of

the society is necessary.

Organization: Genocide is always organized, with the primary mission of annihilation.

Usually this plan is formal and organized through the state. Militias who are often well

armed and trained usually carry out the mission.

Polarization: The act of separating groups by forbidding social interaction of any kind is

the next stage. Often groups that are separated have no voice; if members try to speak up,

they are often punished or killed.

Preparation: In this stage, the groups that have been identified and discriminated against

are placed on death lists. Victims become physically separated from the larger society.

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Ostracized groups are placed in ghettos or concentrations camps or are confined to

destitute areas.

Extermination: This stage is often rapid, quickly becoming the mass killings people

associate with genocide. This stage of “extermination” is justified by the killers because

the victims have already been labeled nonhuman (see stage 3, “dehumanization”).

Denial: This stage follows genocide. Architects of genocide usually do everything in

their power to cover up incidents of these horrendous acts: digging mass graves and

burning bodies, intimidating witnesses, denying the crime in its entirety, and often

blaming the victims. In the past these perpetrators blocked investigations of the crime and

continued to lead the country until they were removed by force (Stanton, 1998).

The Aftermath of Genocide

        Several factors occur after genocide. There are biopsychological changes; acts of

genocide cause many people to flee their homes in fear for their lives. In turn, people who

flee become refugees or internationally displaced people. Often, refugees flee to

neighboring countries, placing social, political, and economic burdens on these countries.

        The biological and psychosocial effects of genocide are not exclusive to the child

and adult victims, but the perpetrators as well. Marginalization and dehumanization place

a mental toll on the victims thereof, resulting in negative cognitive, behavioral, affective,

relational, and spiritual effects. Some perpetrators are forced into committing these acts.

Soldiers who engaged in vile acts such as rape and torture often did not have the

propensities for these actions prior to war. Before committing the rampant acts of

violence, many of the oppressors had been traumatized themselves (Dutton,

Boyanowksy, & Bond, 2004).

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       There are long-and short-term ways of shaping an individual into becoming

violent. Desensitization is necessary for a nonviolent person to kill or to commit other

violent acts (Dutton, Boyanowksy, & Bond, 2004).

The Biopsychological Effects of Genocide

       The process of recovering from such trauma can be long and painful. Sometimes

the recovery is not attainable for victims (Kaplan, 2006). Child victims of genocide have

been shown to have limitations in their academic and social development, self-esteem,

and self-efficacy (Kaplan, 2006). In addition, entire communities show evidence in long-

term traumatic effects.

       The long-term effects begin with the victims of trauma usually not accepting or

seeking psychological help. Usually, therapy is not offered to victims (Kaplan, 2006;

Staub, 2006). However, therapy usually offers the victims a medium to separate their

present realities of no longer being traumatized from their past traumatic experiences. In

a study conducted by Kaplan (2006) in Stockholm, Sweden, child victims often relived

their experiences through sensations that reminded them of past incidents. Ongoing

reminders of past experiences can place victims in a constant state of fear.

       The effects of genocide are psychological, and victims of genocide often face

discrimination in refugee camps or in their new country of permanent residence, if they

do not return home. Individuals who return to their home countries are often plagued with

uncertainty in regard to loss property and other belongings (McMorran & Schultz, 2003).

       After genocidal conflicts have ceased, restoration of the country‟s infrastructure,

as well as reconciliation, has to begin. The ramifications of genocide are widespread, and

community leaders have to find the most effective ways of initiating the healing process.

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Often, victims are angry at their oppressors, leaving room for retaliation, if not addressed.

Preventing the possible cycle of hate is often most challenging for countries; examples of

this cycle of hate can be seen in countries like Rwanda and Cambodia (McMorran &

Schultz, 2003).


       Along with the contribution of other humanitarian actors, social workers are in a

unique position to inform, advocate, and offer solutions regarding genocide. IFSW

recognizes that genocide is a threat to humanity and is often derived from hate and fear,

which are learned behaviors. In addition, IFSW understands that commitment and

determination are needed to prevent and combat genocide and issues related to genocide.


       IFSW recognizes that there are several factors that often indicate the occurrence

of genocide in a country. Impeding the events that lead to genocide is very important.

There are several things that the international community can do to stop actions that may

become genocide. Supporting national and international governing agencies that will

intervene prior to the onset of genocide will be a top priority of IFSW. IFSW will:

      Encourage the United Nations, and regional organizations/bodies, to make the

       prevention of genocide a priority through holding governments and groups in

       power of countries on the brink of conflict accountable.

      Support governing bodies that implement programs and polices within countries

       that would encourage incentives for power sharing and bargaining across ethnic


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      Encourage countries with previous conflicts to institute programs in which

       various ethnic groups can volunteer to work with one another.

      Encourage countries, especially countries with past conflicts, to have within their

       governmental systems a proportional representation of the different groups within

       their population.

Care and Treatment

       IFSW recognizes the extreme physical and mental stressors placed on victims of

genocide and realizes the importance of care and treatment during and after periods of

conflict. IFSW supports the services given by organizations and programs that will

enhance the well-being of groups affected. IFSW will:

      Encourage initiatives that include appropriate comprehensive cultural competence

       in the delivery of services.

      Support and organize treatment and care that is fair and just to all members of

       specific societies, regardless of age, gender, race, cultural beliefs, religion, sexual

       orientation, affiliation, and civil status.

      Encourage international organizations to make mental and behavioral health a

       priority in conflict assistance throughout the various stages of genocide.

      Encourage its member organizations to emphasize the importance of social work

       in regard to genocide in their respective countries.

Building and Maintaining Partnerships

       IFSW understands the importance of partnering with other programs and

organizations on the global, national, and local levels. These partnerships are imperative

to combat genocide. IFSW will:

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      Support international agencies with the implementation of policies and guidelines

       that will assist individuals, communities, and countries that experience extreme


      Encourage the United Nations, and Regional organizations/bodies, to make the

       prevention of genocide a priority through holding governments and groups in

       power of countries on the brink of conflict accountable.

      Support programs that will view the importance of cultural competence when

       assisting individuals and communities affected by genocide.

      Encourage programs that will tap into local resources in these areas—through

       capacity building.

      Support agencies that work diligently to promote peaceful coexistence in national

       and local policies within countries rebuilding after war.

Education and Research

       IFSW understands that the study of genocide is a new phenomenon. Educating

ourselves is important in understanding genocide and the long-and short-term effects of

conflict. Social work research on genocide is important to better equip the profession

with perspectives on ways to address challenges derived from genocide. In addition,

IFSW recognizes the importance of education as a source of empowerment for any

community, especially for those ravaged by conflict. IFSW will:

      Work with international think tanks to include the social work approach in their

       research and publications as they relate to genocide.

      Support international agencies that make education a top priority of assistance,

       along with other immediate needs.

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      Support the creation and implementation of programs that include educational and

       reconciliation strategies for countries recuperating from conflict.


       IFSW acknowledges that genocide often leaves the most vulnerable populations

within these societies without a voice. In maintaining the right of every human to be

heard, IFSW will:

                 Encourage its member organizations to pressure their respective

                  governments to create policies that will ensure that individuals or groups

                  placed in their host countries are not discriminated against or abused

                  because of their status.

                 Promote governments who make the issue of the prevention of genocide a

                  priority in their national and international policies.

                 Support groups or organizations that advocate for victims of genocide to

                  be treated humanely in their respective countries or host countries.

IFSW acknowledges that without the support of governments and the institution of

policies within these governments, humanitarian assistance will be challenging and not

likely sustainable.

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Craig, C.D., (2005). Teaching about genocide: A way to highlight international social
       justice issues [PowerPoint Presentation slides]. Retrieved October 12, 2007 from

Dutton,D., Boyanowsky, E., & Bond, M. (2005). Extreme mass homicide: From military
       massacre to genocide. Aggression and Violent Behavior. 10 (4), 437-473.

Kaplan, S. (2006) Children in genocide: Extreme traumatization and the „affect
      propeller.‟ International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 87 (3), 725-746.

McMorran C., & Schultz N., (2003). Genocide. Retrieved from November 1, 2007.

Smith, R.W., (2004). American self-interest and the response to genocide. Chronicle of
       Higher Education. Retrieved September 21, 2007 from

Stanton G., (1998) The 8 Stages of Genocide. Retrieved October 12, 2007 from

Staub, E., (2006). Reconciliation after Genocide, Mass Killing, or Intractable Conflict:
       Understanding the Roots of Violence, Psychological Recovery, and Steps toward
       a General Theory. Political Psychology, 27 (6), 867-894.

United Nations (1948). Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
       Genocide. Retrieved October 10, 2007 from

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