Lest we forget: World’s 10 worst genocides

On World Genocide Prevention Day, let us take a look at some of the most shameful chapter's in world history 

Cambodian refugees wait in long lines for food rations of eggs and rice inside a camp on the Thailand/Cambodia border in 1979. Photos by Jay Mather.

According to the United Nations, 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;

  • 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.

Over time, the world has seen several instances of a complete loss of humanity that resulted in such heinous crimes. Here are some of the most shocking genocides from across the world.

The Holocaust

The Holocaust was a state sponsored killing of 6 million Jews in the Nazi Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler at the time of the second World War. The Nazis who came to power in Germany in January, 1933, believed that Germans were of a ‘superior race’. Hitler’s ‘final solution’ meant complete elimination of the Jews. Concentration camps were built in occupied Poland for enslavement, torture and systematic mass murders. Approximately 2,20,000 to 5,00,000 Romani people were also killed during this period as they were also seen by the Nazis as ‘inferior’ races.


Holodomor means ‘to kill by starvation’. It was a man-made great famine in Soviet-Ukraine from the year 1932 to 1933 to break the will of the Ukrainian people who resisted giving up their own land and working on Government land. Food was confiscated from homes, outside aid was rejected and people were not allowed to move out. It was a part of the larger Soviet famine which impacted the major agricultural regions. Death toll is estimated to be at 12 million. The surviving generations were forbidden to speak of it It is recognised as a famine since 2006 by Ukraine and 15 other countries as a genocide.

Rwandan Genocide

Approximately 6,00,000 Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda after the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994. The Arusha Accords signed on August 4, 1993 with the Tutsi dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to end the Rwandan civil war came to a sudden end with his death. The next day onwards soldiers, police and militia owing allegiance to Hutu extremists started a systematic mass murder of Tutsis, Twas and some moderate Hutu leaders. Many were in fact killed in their own villages by their neighbours. There were also reports of atleast 25,000 instances of sexual violence. The genocide ended when RPF assumed control of all government territory and drove the perpetrators of the genocide into exile in Zaire.   

Cambodian Genocide

This genocide went on from 1975 to 1979, and led to the deaths of 1.5 million to 2 million people. It was the systematic persecution and killing of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge under the brutal leader Pol Pot, who pushed Cambodia towards Communism. Religion was outlawed, schools and factories shut down, everybody irrespective of their age and gender were made to work on collective farms  and anybody educated was killed.

Armenian Genocide

Started by the Turkish Government to remove the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians living in Ottoman Empire, this genocide was a systematic murder of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians between 1914- 1923. Since the Armenians were Christian by faith, the Ottoman Caliphate feared that they would side with other Christian countries in the region, particularly in times of war, and therefore, wanted to eliminate them. Turkey to this date refuses to accept the Genocide.

Bosnian Genocide

After Yugoslavia broke up, the Bosnian revolution followed from 1989 to 1993. Muslims were the largest group and the Serbs and Croats were in minority in 1971. With  the help of the Serb dominated Yugoslav army, the Serbs attacked the Muslims and Croatians, leading to the extermination of 1 lakh people. At Srebrenica (a UN protected town) the Bosnian Serbs committed heinous sexual crimes on women while killing the men at mass killing sites. It was declared a genocide in 2001 by the International Court of Justice. 

Kurdish Genocide

This genocide took place under the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, in 1978- 1988. Iraq was a Shia majority country with the Kurds as a minority and anti-Kurd sentiments prevailed. During the Al Anfal campaign in Northern Iraq led by Ali Hassan Al- Majid, a cousin of the dictator, aerial bombing, mass deportation, firing squads and chemical warfare were used on the Kurds during the Iraq-Iran war. It killed between 50,000 to 182,000 Kurds. Among others killed were Assyrian Christians. It led to the displacement of 3.5 million Kurds. Saddam Hussein was facing trial for the Anfal campaign when he was executed. 

Bangladesh Genocide

With the launch of Operation Searchlight, the genocide in Bangladesh began in March 1971, to supress East Pakistan’s (now Bangladesh) calls for self determination the genocide was carried on by the West Pakistan’s (now Pakistan) army and Jamat-E-Islami the militant group. Mass gendered crimes and rapes were carried out against Bengali women declaring them as ‘public property’. Around 3,00,000 people were killed and 8 to 10 million mostly Hindus migrated fearing their lives. 

Guatemalan Genocide

Also known as the Silent Holocaust, the Guatemalan Genocide lasted 34 years, starting from 1962 to 1996. It was characterised by forced disappearances, massacre, torture and sexual violence carried out by the state in a bid to maintain the economic and political power of the social elite. The Civil War started in Guatemala in the 1960s due to the social and political inequalities. Mayan people began protesting in 1970 against the repressive government policies demanding greater knowledge and inclusion of the Mayan language and culture. In 1980 the Guatemalan army instituted operation Sophia targeting the Mayan population. 200,000 indigenous Mayan people were prosecuted.

Darfur Genocide

This genocide has so far led to the deaths of 4,80,000 people and left approximately 2.5 million people displaced. It began in 2003 when Janjaweed militia armed by the government began a violent campaign of violence against the region’s non-Arab population. According to World Without Genocide, “The complexities of desertification, famines, and the civil war raging between North and South Sudan contributed to a rise in regional tensions during the 1980s. Similarly, as oil was discovered in western Sudan, the Sudanese government and international contributors became increasingly interested in the land in Darfur.” The scarce resources coupled with the Civil War between the Northern and Southern parts of the country between multiple rebel and rival groups proved to be such a potent poison, that despite several peace talks, very little success has been achieved in bringing peace to the region. 



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