Patterns of Genocide

Genocide is a process, not a single event. A key feature of the genocidal process is that it is not only a systematic but also a patterned form of attack on a group. This means that in the short-term we can often identify the emergence of intent at its early stages when genocidal patterns are played out in localized ways. The list of patterns below is meant to help guide the identification of “microcosms” of genocide at stages when a wider array of prevention tools may still have some utility.


Although the Genocide Convention specifically lists four “protected categories” (“national, ethnical, racial, and religious groups”), history has shown that perpetrators define their target groups using a range of criteria and that their definitions and categories are very subjective, related more to perpetrator ideology and imagined threats and goals than to any objective criteria for group membership. Therefore, genocide can be and has been committed against political, social, economic, sexual identity and gender groups in addition to the four “protected categories.”


Perpetrators of genocide attack their target groups because these groups are seen to be existential threats. The genocidal process of destruction involves every member of the target group, regardless of gender, age, social status or occupation, but it affects different people in different ways. Frequently such variation is intentional on the part of the perpetrator: People’s real and perceived positions in the target society are instrumentalized by perpetrators to cause maximal and lasting physical and psychic damage to group members and to institutions of group cohesion, especially the family unit. These crimes are referred to below as life force atrocities and are a strong indicator of genocidal intent and potential genocide within wider social crises and conflicts.


Atrocities which, when considered alone, might constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, are crimes of genocide if they are part of a wider pattern of attack that is aimed at destroying a group, particularly by undermining a group’s ability to reproduce itself biologically and culturally in the future.


NOTE: All patterns overlap, and a single genocide can take different forms at different times in its history.