Mass killing

Mass killing is a concept which has been proposed by genocide scholars who wish to define incidents of non-combat killing which are perpetrated by a government or a state. A mass killing is commonly defined as the killing of group members without the intention to eliminate the whole group,[1] or otherwise the killing of large numbers of people without a clear group membership.[2]

Mass killing is used by a number of genocide scholars because genocide (its strict definition) does not cover mass killing events in which no specific ethnic or religious groups are targeted, nor does it cover events in which perpetrators do not intend to eliminate whole groups or significant parts of them. Genocide scholars use different models in order to explain and predict the onset of mass killing events. There has been little consensus[3] nor has there been a generally-accepted terminology,[4] prompting scholars, such as Anton Weiss-Wendt,[5] to describe comparative attempts a failure.[6] Genocide scholarship rarely appears in mainstream disciplinary journals.[7]


Several different terms are used to describe the intentional killing of large numbers of noncombatants,[5] but there is no consensus or generally-accepted terminology.[8][9][10][11] Mass killing has emerged as a "more straightforward" term than genocide or politicide.[12] Mass killing was proposed by genocide scholars in attempts to collect a uniform global database of genocidal events and identify statistical models for prediction of onset of mass killings. Atsushi Tago and Frank Wayman reference mass killing as defined by Valentino and state that even with a lower threshold (10,000 killed per year, 1,000 killed per year, or even 1), "autocratic regimes, especially communist, are prone to mass killing generically, but not so strongly inclined (i.e. not statistically significantly inclined) toward geno-politicide."[13] Other terms used by several authors to describe mass killings of non-combattents include:

  • Classicide – "intended mass killing of entire social classes",[14] which sociologist Michael Mann considers more apt than genocide for describing crimes committed by Communist states.[15]
  • Democide – political scientist Rudolph Rummel defined democide as "the intentional killing of an unarmed or disarmed person by government agents acting in their authoritative capacity and pursuant to government policy or high command";[16] according to Rummel, this definition covers a wide range of deaths, including forced labor and concentration camp victims, killings by unofficial private groups, extrajudicial summary killings and mass deaths in deliberate famines as well as killings by de facto governments, e.g. civil war killings.[17] Rummel's democide concept is similar to geno-politicide, but there are two important differences. First, an important prerequisite for geno-politicide is government's intent to destroy a specific group.[18] In contrast, democide deals with wider range of cases, including the cases when governments are engaged in random killing either directly or due to the acts of criminal omission and neglect.[16] Second, whereas some lower threshold exists for a killing event to be considered geno-politicide, there is no low threshold for democide which covers any murder of any number of persons by any government.[16]
  • Genocide – under the Genocide Convention, the crime of genocide generally applies to mass murder of ethnic rather than political or social groups.[19] Protection of political groups was eliminated from the United Nations resolution after a second vote because many states anticipated that clause to apply unneeded limitations to their right to suppress internal disturbances.[20] Genocide is also a popular term for political killings which are studied academically as democide and politicide.[13]
  • Mass killing – referencing earlier definitions,[nb 1] Joan Esteban, Massimo Morelli, and Dominic Rohner define mass killings as "the killings of substantial numbers of human beings, when not in the course of military action against the military forces of an avowed enemy, under the conditions of the essential defenselessness and helplessness of the victims."[22] Valentino defines the term as "the intentional killing of a massive number of noncombatants",[23] where a "massive number" is at least 50,000 intentional deaths over the course of five years or less;[24] this is the most accepted quantitative minimum threshold for the term.[22][25]
  • Politicide – some genocide scholars propose the concept of politicide to describe the killing of groups that would not otherwise be covered by the Genocide Convention.[26] Barbara Harff studies genocide and politicide, sometimes shortened as geno-politicide, to include the mass killing of political, economic, ethnic, and cultural groups.[13]


Benjamin Valentino outlines two major categories of mass killing, namely dispossessive mass killing and coercive mass killing. The first category included ethnic cleansing, killings that accompany agrarian reforms in some Communist states and killings during colonial expansion, among others. The second category includes killing during counterinsurgent warfare, and killings as part of the imperialist conquests by the Axis powers during the World War II, among others.[27] Valentino does not consider ideology or regime-type as an important factor that explains mass killings, and outlines Communist mass killing as a subtype of dispossessive mass killing, which is considered as a complication of original theory his book is based on.[13] About why it occurs,[28] Valentino states that ideology, paranoia, and racism can shape leaders' beliefs for why genocide and mass killing may be justified.[29] Unlike Rudolph Rummel, Valentino does not see authoritarianism or totalitarianism as explaining mass killing; it is not ideology or regime-type but the leader's motive.[30]

Manus Midlarsky also focuses on leaders' decision making but his case selection and general conclusions are different from Valentino's. Midlarsky has a more narrower definition of the dependent variable and only analyzes three case studies (the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and the Rwanda genocide). Midlarsky tries to explain why individuals may comply with the culprits, why politicide rather than genocide happened in Cambodia (Cambodian genocide), and why ethnic minorities, such as Greeks in the Ottoman Empire and Jews in the Second Polish Republic, were not targeted for genocide. Like Michael Mann and Valentino to a lesser extent, Midlarsky mainly addresses genocides that did not take place. Both Midlarsky and Valentino mainly focus on proximate conditions, while Mann considers genocide within the broad context of ideologies and nation-states development.[31]

Global databases of mass killingsEdit

Two global databases of mass killings are currently available. The first compilation by Rudolph Rummel covers a time period from the beginning of the 20th century until 1977, while the second compilation by Barbara Harff combines all mass killing events since 1955. The Harff database is the most frequently used by genocide scholars.[13]

These data are intended mostly for statistical analysis of mass killings in attempt to identify the best predictors for their onset. According to Harff, these data are not necessarily the most accurate for a given country, since some sources are general genocide scholars and not experts on local history.[16] A comparative analysis of these two databases revealed a significant difference between the figures of killed per years and low correlation between Rummel's and Harff's data sets.[32] Tomislav Dulić criticized Rummel's generally higher numbers as arising from flaws in Rummel's statistical methodology.[16]

Genocides and politicides from 1955 to 2001 as listed by Harff, 2003[18][nb 2]
Country Start End Nature of episode Est. number of victims Related articles
Sudan October 1956 March 1972 Politicide with communal victims 400,000–600,000 First Sudanese Civil War
South Vietnam January 1965 April 1975 Politicide 400,000–500,000 South Vietnam
China March 1959 December 1959 Genocide and politicide 65,000 1959 Tibetan uprising
Iraq June 1963 March 1975 Politicide with communal victims 30,000–60,000 Ba'athist Iraq
Algeria July 1962 December 1962 Politicide 9,000–30,000
Rwanda December 1963 June 1964 Politicide with communal victims 12,000–20,000
Congo-Kinshasa February 1964 January 1965 Politicide 1,000–10,000
Burundi October 1965 December 1973 Politicide with communal victims 140,000
Indonesia November 1965 July 1966 Genocide and politicide 500,000–1,000,000 Indonesian mass killings of 1965–1966
China May 1966 March 1975 Politicide 400,000–850,000 Cultural Revolution
Guatemala July 1978 December 1996 Politicide and genocide 60,000–200,000 Guatemalan genocide
Pakistan March 1971 December 1971 Politicide with communal victims 1,000,000–3,000,000
Uganda December 1972 April 1979 Politicide and genocide 50,000–400,000 Genocides in central Africa
Philippines September 1972 June 1976 Politicide with communal victims 60,000
Pakistan February 1973 July 1977 Politicide with communal victims 5,000–10,000
Chile September 1973 December 1976 Politicide 5,000–10,000
Angola November 1975 2001 Politicide by UNITA and government forces 500,000
Cambodia April 1975 January 1979 Politicide and genocide 1,900,000–3,500,000 Cambodian genocide
Indonesia December 1975 July 1992 Politicide with communal victims 100,000–200,000
Argentina March 1976 December 1980 Politicide 9,000–20,000
Ethiopia July 1976 December 1979 Politicide 10,000
Congo-Kinshasa March 1977 December 1979 Politicide with communal victims 3,000–4,000
Afghanistan April 1978 April 1992 Politicide 1,800,000 Afghanistan conflict (1978–present)
Burma January 1978 December 1978 Genocide 5,000
El. Salvador January 1980 December 1989 Politicide 40,000–60,000
Uganda December 1980 January 1986 Politicide and genocide 200,000–500,000 Genocides in central Africa
Syria March 1981 February 1982 Politicide 5,000–30,000
Iran June 1981 December 1992 Politicide and genocide 10,000–20,000 Casualties of the Iranian Revolution
1988 executions of Iranian political prisoners
Sudan September 1983 ? Politicide with communal victims 2,000,000
Iraq March 1988 June 1991 Politicide with communal victims 180,000
Somalia May 1988 January 1991 Politicide with communal victims 15,000–50,000
Burundi 1988 1988 Genocide 5,000–20,000 Hutu massacres of 1988
Sri Lanka September 1989 January 1990 Politicide 13,000–30,000
Bosnia May 1992 November 1995 Genocide 225,000 Bosnian genocide
Burundi October 1993 May 1994 Genocide 50,000 Burundian genocides
Rwanda April 1994 July 1994 Genocide 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandan genocide
Serbia December 1998 July 1999 Politicide with communal victims 10,000

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Charny 2000 defines generic genocide as "the mass killing of substantial numbers of human beings, when not in the course of military action against the military forces of an avowed enemy, under conditions of the essential defenselessness and helplessness of the victims." In the 2006 article "Development, Democracy, and Mass Killings", William Easterly, Roberta Gatti, and Sergio Kurlat adopted Charny's definition of generic genocide for their use of mass killing and massacre to avoid the politics of genocide altogether.[21]
  2. ^ The list does not include deaths from the Great Chinese Famine and the Great Leap Forward.


  1. ^ Staub 1989, p. 8: "Mass killing means killing members of a group without the intention to eliminate the whole group or killing large numbers of people without a precise definition of group membership."
  2. ^ Staub 2011, p. 100: "In contrast to genocide, I see mass killing as 'killing (or in other ways destroying) members of a group without the intention to eliminate the whole group, or killing large numbers of people' without a focus on group membership."
  3. ^ Krain 1997.
  4. ^ Valentino 2004.
  5. ^ a b Stone 2008, p. 2.
  6. ^ Weiss-Wendt 2008.
  7. ^ Verdeja 2012.
  8. ^ Krain 1997, pp. 331–332: "The literatures on state-sponsored mass murder and state terrorism have been plagued by definitional problems."
  9. ^ Valentino 2004, p. 6: "No generally accepted terminology exists to describe the intentional killing of large numbers of noncombatants."
  10. ^ Weiss-Wendt 2008, p. 42: "There is barely any other field of study that enjoys so little consensus on defining principles such as definition of genocide, typology, application of a comparative method, and timeframe."
  11. ^ Verdeja 2012, p. 307: "Although the field has grown enormously over the past decade and a half, genocide scholarship still rarely appears in mainstream disciplinary journals."
  12. ^ Ott 2011, p. 53: "As is customary in the literature on mass killing of civilians there is a need to restate here what mass killing is about. Although many definitions have been used — 'genocide', 'politicide' and 'democide' — there has emerged a sort of consensus that the term 'mass killing' is much more straightforward than either genocide or politicide."
  13. ^ a b c d e Tago & Wayman 2010.
  14. ^ Mann 2005, p. 17.
  15. ^ Sémelin 2007, p. 37.
  16. ^ a b c d e Harff 2017.
  17. ^ Harff 1996.
  18. ^ a b Harff 2003.
  19. ^ Curthoys & Docker 2008, p. 7.
  20. ^ Schaak 1997; Jones 2010, p. 137.
  21. ^ Easterly, Gatti & Kurlat 2006.
  22. ^ a b Esteban, Morelli & Rohner 2010.
  23. ^ Valentino 2004, p. 91.
  24. ^ Bach-Lindsday, Huth & Valentino 2004, p. 387.
  25. ^ Tago & Wayman 2010, pp. 4, 11–12.
  26. ^ Gurr & Harff 1988.
  27. ^ Straus 2007, p. 116: "Among them, Valentino identifies two major types, each with three subtypes. The first major type is 'dispossessive mass killing,' which includes (1) 'communist mass killings' in which leaders seek to transform societies according to communist principles; (2) 'ethnic mass killings,' in which leaders forcibly remove an ethnic population; and (3) mass killing as leaders acquire and repopulate land. The second major type of mass killing is 'coercive mass killing,' which includes (1) killing in wars when leaders cannot defeat opponents using conventional means; (2) 'terrorist' mass killing when leaders use violence to force an opposing side to surrender; and (3) killing during the creation of empires when conquering leaders try to defeat resistance and intimidate future resistance."
  28. ^ Valentino 2004, p. 60: "I content mass killing occurs when powerful groups come to believe it is the best available means to accomplish certain radical goals, counter specific types of threats, or solve difficult military problem." See also p. 70 to read Valentino outlining his proposed two major categories of mass killing.
  29. ^ Straus 2007, pp. 484–485: "Valentino makes a quite different argument. The pivot of his cogent and parsimonious analysis is that genocide and mass killing emerge from the strategic calculations of leaders—that genocide and mass killing are calculated, instrumental, and deliberate policies that leaders choose to accomplish certain goals. ... A key question for Valentino is why leaders would choose the strategy of genocide and mass killing. Valentino argues that ideology, racism, and paranoia can shape why leaders believe that genocide and mass killing is the right course of action."
  30. ^ Tago & Wayman 2010, p. 5: "Disagreeing with Rummel's finding that authoritarian and totalitarian government explains mass murder, Valentino (2004) argues that regime type does not matter; to Valentino the crucial thing is the motive for mass killing (Valentino, 2004: 70). He divides motive into the two categories of dispossessive mass killing (as in ethnic cleansing, colonial enlargement, or collectivization of agriculture) and coercive mass killing (as in counter-guerrilla, terrorist, and Axis imperialist conquests)."
  31. ^ Straus 2007, pp. 485–486.
  32. ^ Dulić 2004.


  • Tago, Atsushi; Wayman, Frank (January 2010). "Explaining the Onset of Mass Killing, 1949–87". Journal of Peace Research. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. 47 (1): 3–13. doi:10.1177/0022343309342944. ISSN 0022-3433. JSTOR 25654524. S2CID 145155872.
  • Bach-Lindsday, Dylan; Huth, Paul; Valentino, Benjamin (May 2004). "Draining the Sea: Mass Killing and Guerrilla Warfare". International Organization. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. 58 (2): 375–407. doi:10.1017/S0020818304582061. JSTOR 3877862.
  • Charny, Israel W., ed. (2000). Encyclopedia of Genocide (1st ed.). Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780874369281.
  • Curthoys, Ann; Docker, John (2008). "Defining Genocide". In Stone, Dan (ed.). The Historiography of Genocide (paperback ed.). Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 7–41. ISBN 9780230279551.
  • Dulić, Tomislav (January 2004). "Tito's Slaughterhouse: A Critical Analysis of Rummel's Work on Democide". Journal of Peace Research. Thousands Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. 41 (1): 85‒102. doi:10.1177/0022343304040051. JSTOR 4149657.
  • Easterly, William; Gatti, Roberta; Kurlat, Sergio (June 2006). "Development, Democracy, and Mass Killings". Journal of Economic Growth. New York City, New York: Springer (11): 129–156. doi:10.1007/s10887-006-9001-z. JSTOR 40216091.
  • Esteban, Joan Maria; Morelli, Massimo; Rohner, Dominic (May 2010). "Strategic Mass Killings". Working Paper No. 486. Zurich Switzerland: Institute for Empirical Research in Economics, University of Zurich. SSRN 1615375.
  • Gurr, Ted Robert; Harff, Barbara (September 1988). "Toward Empirical Theory of Genocides and Politicides: Identification and Measurement of Cases since 1945". International Studies Quarterly. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley. 32 (3): 359–371. doi:10.2307/2600447. ISSN 0020-8833. JSTOR 2600447.
  • Harff, Barbara (Summer 1996). "Review: Death by Government by R. J. Rummel". The Journal of Interdisciplinary History. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. 27 (1): 117–119. doi:10.2307/206491. JSTOR 206491.
  • Harff, Barbara (February 2003). "No Lessons Learned from the Holocaust? Assessing Risks of Genocide and Political Mass Murder since 1955". The American Political Science Review. Washington, D.C.: American Political Science Association. 97 (1): 57–73. doi:10.1017/S0003055403000522. JSTOR 3118221.
  • Harff, Barbara (2017). "The Comparative Analysis of Mass Atrocities and Genocide". In Gleditish, N. P. (ed.). R.J. Rummel: An Assessment of His Many Contributions. SpringerBriefs on Pioneers in Science and Practice. 37. New York City, New York: Springer. pp. 111–129. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-54463-2_12. ISBN 978-3-319-54463-2.
  • Jones, Adam (2010). Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction (English paperback 2nd ed.). London, England: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415486194.
  • Krain, Matthew (June 1997). "State-Sponsored Mass Murder: The Onset and Severity of Genocides and Politicides". Journal of Conflict Resolution. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. 41 (3): 331–360. doi:10.1177/0022002797041003001. ISSN 0022-0027. JSTOR 174282. S2CID 143852782.
  • Mann, Michael (2005). The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (English paperback ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521538541.
  • Ott, Attiat (2011). "Modeling Mass Killing: For Gain or Ethnic Cleansing?". In Hartley, Keith (ed.). Handbook on the Economics of Conflict. Cheltenham, England: Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 52–79. ISBN 9780857930347.
  • Schaak, Beth (May 1997). "The Crime of Political Genocide: Repairing the Genocide Convention's Blind Spot". The Yale Law Journal. 106 (7): 2259‒2291.
  • Sémelin, Jacques; et al. (Hoffman, Stanley) (2007). Purify and Destroy: The Political Uses of Massacre and Genocide. The CERI Series in Comparative Politics and International Studies. Translated by Schoch, Cynthia. New York City, New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231142823.
  • Staub, Ervin (1989). The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence (illustrated, reprinted, revised paperback ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521422147.
  • Staub, Ervin (2011). Overcoming Evil: Genocide, Violent Conflict, and Terrorism (illustrated, reprinted hardback ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195382044.
  • Stone, Dan, ed. (2008). The Historiography of Genocide (paperback ed.). Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9780230279551.
  • Straus, Scott (April 2007). "Review: Second-Generation Comparative Research on Genocide". World Politics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. 59 (3): 476–501. doi:10.1017/S004388710002089X. JSTOR 40060166. S2CID 144879341.
  • Valentino, Benjamin (2004). Final Solutions: Mass Killing and Genocide in the Twentieth Century (hardback ed.). Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. ISBN 9780801439650. OCLC 53013098.
  • Verdeja, Ernesto (June 2012). "The Political Science of Genocide: Outlines of an Emerging Research Agenda". Perspectives on Politics. Washington, D.C.: American Political Science Association. 10 (2): 307–321. doi:10.1017/S1537592712000680. JSTOR 41479553.
  • Weiss-Wendt, Anton (2008). "Problems in Comparative Genocide Scholarship". In Stone, Dan (ed.). The Historiography of Genocide (paperback ed.). Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 42–70. doi:10.1057/9780230297784. ISBN 9780230279551.

Further readingEdit

  • Esteban, Joan Maria; Morelli, Massimo; Rohner, Dominic (October 2015). "Strategic Mass Killings". Journal of Political Economy. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press. 123 (5). doi:10.1086/682584.
  • Schaak, Beth (2007). "The Crime of Political Genocide: Repairing the Genocide Convention's Blind Spot". In Campbell, Tom; Lattimer, Mark (eds.). Genocide and Human Rights (1st eBook ed.). London, England: Routledge. pp. 140–173. doi:10.4324/9781351157568. ISBN 9781351157568.
  • Sémelin, Jacques; et al. (Hoffman, Stanley) (2007). "The Political Uses of Massacre and Genocide". Purify and Destroy: The Political Uses of Massacre and Genocide. The CERI Series in Comparative Politics and International Studies. Translated by Schoch, Cynthia. New York City, New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 310–361. ISBN 9780231142823.

External linksEdit