Genocides — unseen epidemics

The continuous conflict between Israel and Palestine has been a key concern in the Middle East

Muhammad Rafay Waqar April 10, 2024
The writer studies political economy at the University of California. He can be reached at


As we grapple with ghastly visuals coming from the Middle East, it is important to take a look back into the annals of history to see how globally, persecution of minority groups has been a human rights issue ongoing for many years.

During the last few decades, the act of genocide has been prominent within political conflicts around the world acting as a tool to achieve power and control over a region or a certain group of people. South Asia is an imperative example of where genocide is much more frequent due to highly politicalised and polarised ideologies, which have been native to region for many years.

A UN report on the human rights situation in Kashmir, published in March 2022, highlights the Indian government’s use of disproportionate force against civilians as well as the continuous arrest of political leaders and activists in the region. This is one of many events that is currently taking place and haunting the international community.

Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish lawyer and professor, popularised the notion of genocide in his 1944 book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. He classified genocide into four categories: physical, biological, psychological and cultural. Lemkin also described the ‘techniques of genocide’ designed to break a targeted group’s relationships with its members, culture, history and future. These strategies include destroying a community’s social and political systems, stealing its money and resources, imposing tight laws and regulations, disseminating propaganda extensively and placing the target group on the outside to make the violence seem legitimate.

Many of these approaches are still in use today, despite adjustments throughout time. Physical genocide is still a key weapon of authoritarian governments across the globe, with minority communities being purposely slaughtered. Biological genocide is still utilised by intentionally spreading illness or manipulating food and water supplies. Psychological genocide is still used to control people by influencing public opinion and using scare techniques. Cultural genocide is still widespread, with repressive governments attempting to eliminate a population’s language and traditional cultural aspects to maintain power.

Lemkin’s study is essential for comprehending the consequences of genocide, which includes the eradication of cultural symbols, rituals and behaviours that obliterate a group’s history and identity. A group’s existence is dependent on preserving its cultural history, and eliminating it makes it difficult for the group to rebuild and expand again. This is the case, for instance, with the Muslims in Kashmir, Muslims in Palestine and the Rohingya of Myanmar.

The Myanmar government has been accused of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims for decades. The government has deprived them of their citizenship, denied them access to basic services and refused to acknowledge them as a minority community. As a result, nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they are presently housed in deplorable refugee camps.

Similarly, in India, Kashmiri Muslims have faced persecution for decades because of the continuing struggle between India and Pakistan over the disputed region. In 2019, the Indian government abolished Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, which provided the territory significant autonomy. Since then, the government has enforced a curfew, shut down internet and phone services and imprisoned hundreds. Protesters have been confronted with disproportionate force, including the use of pellet guns, which have blinded numerous Kashmiri residents.

Beyond what is happening in Gaza, the continuous conflict between Israel and Palestine has been a key concern in the Middle East. The Israeli government has been accused of genocide against the Palestinian people. They have persistently violated the Palestinian people’s human rights and used disproportionate force against Palestinian protesters, increasing destruction of Palestinian homes and properties by Israeli forces, leading to the displacement of thousands.

Another tragic example of ongoing crisis is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The conflict and political instability of the DRC have led to widespread atrocities perpetrated against ethnic minorities. Human rights groups have reported targeted killings, rape and forced evictions.

These cases demonstrate how genocide or the purposeful and systematic annihilation of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group is currently occurring in numerous regions of the globe. These activities not only inflict physical and emotional pain, but they also ruin the culture, history and future of the populations attacked. It is critical to acknowledge and solve these challenges in order to defend human rights and avoid future genocides.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has published several findings on ongoing human rights violations against minority populations in different countries mentioned above.

The systematic and ongoing persecution of minority groups around the world — which is exemplified by genocide and heinous violations of human rights — highlights the urgent need for cooperation in order to defend the core values of justice, dignity and human rights. Communities in places like Kashmir, Palestine, Myanmar, and the DRC have endured horrific hardships, and their stories serve as sobering reminders of the terrible results of unbridled violence and oppression.

In order to achieve a future in which the rights of every community is upheld equally and treated with respect, it is imperative for the international community to denounce such atrocities and focus on endorsing the work of organisations like the United Nations Human Rights Council, and holding those responsible accountable.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2024.

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