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In this essay, ethnic cleansing will be defined and explained.

instances of ethnic cleansing committed throughout history will be
highlighted demonstrating that this practice considered today a war crime
and a crime against by the international community continues.

Ethnic cleansing is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionaryas “the

persecution through imprisonment, expulsion, or killing of members of an
ethnic minority by a local majority to achieve ethnic homogeneity in
majority-controlled territory”. The United Nations defines ethnic cleansing as
"rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or to remove from
a given area persons of another ethnic or religious group”. At one end it is
virtually indistinguishable from forced emigration and population exchange
while at the other it merges with deportation and genocide. At the most
general level, however, ethnic cleansing can be understood as the expulsion
of a population from a given territory. The International Criminal Court and
the United Nations consider ethnic cleansing as a crime against humanity.

Ethnic cleansing is generally used as a tactic to achieve military or

political dominance over a geographic area. When used as a military tactic,
ethnic cleansing has a number of significant impacts. It enables a force to
eliminate civilian support for a resistance by eliminating the civilian
population that sympathizes and support it. This ensures the total removal
of a different ethnic faction and an assured long term victory. When used as
a political tactic, it insures the absence of any potential political opposition
establishing a homogenous population with similar political tendencies.

Throughout history, there were examples of the use of ethnic cleansing as

a tactic for both political and/or military gains. Some examples of ethnic
cleansing covering ancient history:

➢ The Assyriansemployed the practice of mass-deportation as a

punishment for rebellions starting in the 13th century BC. By the 9th
century BC, the Assyrians were regularly deporting thousands of locals
to other lands.
➢ The Romans both practiced and were subjected to ethnic cleansing.
For example, Julius Caesar's campaign against the Celtic inhabitants of
modern Switzerland resulted in approximately 60% of the tribe being
killed, another 20% taken into slavery and the rest being deported.
Similarly, there were ethnic cleansing and massacres of the Roman
population of Roman Britain by Celtic Britons in 60-61 AD.

The practice of ethnic cleansing continued in medieval history:

➢ In 1002, the Anglo-Saxons ordered the death of all the Danes living in
➢ Jews were frequently massacred and exiled from various European
➢ At the beginning of the 13th century the eastern part of the Islamic
world was devastated by the Mongol invasion, which turned northern
and eastern Iran into a desert. Over much of Central Asia speakers of
Iranian languages were replaced by speakers of Turkic languages.
➢ In the 12th to 15th centuries, the Kingdom of France organized the
near-total massacre of inhabitants of the southern provinces.
➢ Spain’s large Muslim and Jewish minorities, inherited from that
country's former Islamic kingdoms, were expelled following Alhambra
decree in 1492, while converts to Catholicism were expelled between
1609 and 1614.
In modern history, examples of ethnic cleansing include:
➢ In the United States during the 1830s, the US government forced relocation
of various Native American peoples from their traditional areas to more
western, often remote reservations elsewhere in the country, a process
known as Indian Removal.
➢ In the early 1900s after the Balkan countries (e.g., Serbia, Greece, and
Bulgaria) achieved independence from the Ottoman Empire, they
expelled Turkish, Muslim, and Jewish populations from within their
➢ In the 19th century, imperial Russia forced the Expulsion of Muslim
populations in the Northern Caucasus.
➢ Massacres of the Turkish population by Greek troops after their defeat
in the Greco Turkish War.
➢ The mass deportation of Ukrainian speaking ethnic minorities from the
territory of Poland after World War II,
➢ In 1948, after India's annexation of the Muslim-ruled state of
Hyderabad by India, they interned or deported about 7,000 Hadrami
➢ In the period of 1991-1999, the widespread ethnic cleansing
accompanying the Yugoslav wars was bloody. The most significant
examples occurred in eastern Croatia, Bosnia and in Kosovo. Large
numbers of Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and Albanians were forced to flee
their homes and were expelled. In total, political troubles in the
Balkans displaced about 2,700,000 people by mid-1992, of which over
700,000 of them sought asylum in Europe.
➢ The 1994 massacres of nearly 1,000,000 Tutsis by Hutus, known as the
Rwandan Genocide in Africa.
➢ Displacement of more than 500,000 Chechen and ethnic Russian
civilians living in Chechnya during the Chechen War in 1994-1996.
➢ More than 800,000 Kosovo residents and Albanians fled their homes in
Kosovo during the Kosovo War in 1998-1999, after being expelled.
➢ Currently in the Iraq Civil War, entire neighborhoods in Baghdad are
being ethnically cleansed by Shia and Sunni militias
➢ The ethnic cleansing of Palestine that took place in 1948 upon the
establishment of the state of Israel started effectively in the period of
1917-1920 when the British Empire took control of the territories from
the Ottoman empire. The fate of the Palestinian people was decided
even before any British soldier put foot on Palestine. The Balfour
declaration issued on November 2nd 1917 called for the establishment
of a Jewish home land in Palestine. This set the stage for what
happened in 1948 when over 800,000 Palestinians were forced to leave
their homes and remain refugees in neighboring Arab countries.

In conclusion, ethnic cleaning is considered a war crime by

international law yet it is still practiced today across the globe. Laws
failed to prevent the killings and displacements of numerous ethnic
groups in the past 100 years. Many of those displaced groups still
suffer to date. The Palestinians are one such group. The international
community should stop the selective prosecution of war crimes based
on political agendas and prosecute all parties involved in ethnic
cleansing equally.


1. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

2. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7
3. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia
4. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe