Colonialism and Genocide – Examples and Causes


Colonialism and Genocide are the phenomenons that have deep roots in the world history. The history is full of examples where the societies expended as result of intervention of any group of people from other nation. This intervention is called Colonialism. The group of people who colonize the country becomes dominant in almost every field and forces the existing population either to leave their homeland or to live under their control. There are certain arguments in favor of colonialism but most of the times the colonialism is been criticized for many reasons. There are many negative impacts of colonialism such as racism, mistreating of natives and most important Genocide which is the mass killing of population.

The link between Colonialism and Genocide could be examined in different perspective, with the help of different example of colonized countries and the Genocide occurred there. But before that, it is very necessary to know in details that what is colonialism and what is genocide.

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What is Colonialism and How it Begun?

“Colonialism is the extension of a nation’s sovereignty over territory beyond its borders by the establishment of either settler colonies or administrative dependencies in which indigenous populations are directly ruled or displaced. Colonizing nations generally dominate the resources, labor, and markets of the colonial territory, and may also impose socio-cultural, religious and linguistic structures on the conquered population.” (“Colonialism – Wikipedia”)

The term colonialism is often mixed with imperialism which is also a form of conquest however imperialism is somewhat a broader concept. In colonialism, the people who colonize the country believe that they have superior norms and values then the colonized people and hence they have a right to dominate and rule over them. The colonialism occurs mostly on the ethnic and cultural grounds. Colonialism involves the suppression on one people by another who extensively immigrates from the country and start taking control of the land, labor and capital of that country. The political and economical activities are also regulated by the dominant group. Although in 1960s and 1970s, the decolonization process occurred but even today there are many colonies existing in the world, most of them are under the strong influence of western world.

The technological advancement in the sixteenth century enables people to reach different parts of the world and across the ocean, in short period of time with the help of fast sailing ships. It became easy for people to move in large number from one place to another. This advancement leads to the formation of colonies especially people from Europe start migrating towards different countries like America, Australia, Africa, and Asia and started taking control over there.

However the European colonialism has already begun in the fifteenth century when there was the Portuguese conquest over Keota. Portuguese and Spanish continued exploring America, Coast of Africa, Middle East and Asia however in seventeenth century England, France and Netherlands succeeded in establishing their first oversea empire. There were several empires formed during the colonization including “Mongol Empire”, “Empire of Alexander the Great”, “Umayyad Caliphate”, “Persian Empire”, “Roman Empire”, “Byzantine Empire” and the “Ottoman Empire” which was established across Mediterranean, North Africa and into Southern Europe.

By the end of 18th century and beginning of 19th century, there was first era of decolonization. During this period many of the European colonies in America, got independence. This termination of new colonies weakened Spain and Portugal however the Britain, France and Netherlands succeed to retain their power in South Africa and Asia. Germany also had its colonies in “Deutsch Ost Afrika”.

The nineteenth century was the century of “New Imperialism” leaded by industrialization. Colonialism process gained momentum and caused the “Scramble of Africa”. In the twentieth century when the First World War was ended, the overseas colonies of loser countries were distributed among the victors. However the process of decolonization started after the end of Second World War and many colonies gained independence but there are still many colonies exciting in the world.

What is Genocide?

Genocide is the international and systematic distraction of a human group sharing same race and culture, by another racial, ethnic or religious group of people. This term also refers to the murder of ethnicity or mass killing of population of any country. It is defined in different ways. The article 2 of Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) defines Genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, 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.” (“Colonialism – Wikipedia”)

The term genocide was coined first time in 1944 however the crime of mass human killing has been committed in the history several times before that. In 1949, The United Nations held a convention where the term Genocide was described in details and the punishments for this crime was also provided to be given by either the international tribunal or by the national courts of states where crime of Genocide was committed. After 39 years this convention was ratified and in 1986, an international tribunal was formed to prosecute the Genocide cases. The tribunal accused the slaughter of more than 50 thousand Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. In the next year the tribunal indicted top civilian and military Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat leaders for killing thousand of Muslims in Yugoslavia.

Genocide – Causes and Examples

Genocides often occur due to severe racial, ethnic or religious conflicts between people. The ethnic and cultural differences between the people divide them in groups and they develop hatred thinking for each other. They build up the thinking that all of their problems are due to the members of another group and the only solution to the problem is the end of that group. This thinking leads to genocide also. In some cased this act is dictated by any powerful political entity. Colonialism is also a reason for the genocide because when a group gets domination in any area and form the colony, it wants the local people to leave their homeland and in case of resistance the crime of genocide occurs.

Historian says that the genocide has a deep links in the world history. Some examples of genocide include the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915-1920 however the Turks deny this accusation. The Holocaust is another example, during which more than six million Jews were killed. In Rwanda there were an estimated 800,000 killings of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the 1994 genocide. Other cases are Soviet man-made famine of Ukraine in 1932-33, the Indonesian invasion of East Timor (1975), and the Khmer Rouge killings in Cambodia in the 1970s. (Resource BBC)

Link between Colonialism and Genocide

Colonialism is charged with several positive and negative impacts. The positive aspects include the development of adequate infrastructure, modern means of transportation and accelerated economic development.  Along with these defensive arguments many negative aspects are also related with colonialism, among them Genocide is considered as most shameful and crooked outcome of colonialism. When a group or people of nation conquers any country and make it their colony, they force the native people to leave their homeland. The native people try to defend themselves and their assets.

The settlers are usually superior and stronger then the natives with respect to the arm and other war tools. The natives are generally greater in numbers but the general people are not supposed to be expert in military art and also they lack the fighting skills whereas when the settlers arrive in any country to make it their colony, they come with full preparation. They are well equipped with armaments and well aware of fighting techniques and planning. These factors account for creating a one sided situation which leads to the defeat of native people, then the settlers often go for committing genocide in order to completely expel the natives.

“Torture and genocide were the colonialists’ answers to the uprising of the natives. And that answer, as we know, is useless if it is not definitive and total. A determined population, unified by its fierce and politicized partisan army, will not let itself be intimidated, as it was in the heyday of colonialism, by a massacre ‘as a lesson’. On the contrary, this will only increase its hatred. It is no longer a matter of arousing fear but of physically liquidating a people.” (Jean Paul Sartre)

Scholars and historian relate the genocides with the colonialism. The research on colonial mass murder committed by Nazis revealed the point that Colonialism guided the German concept of mass murder of Jewish (Raphael Lemkin). Several other genocides were also caused by the colonialism and such genocides have been given the name of “Colonial Genocide”.

The first genocide of twentieth century which was against the Herero and Nama in German Southwest-Africa in 1904-08 is an example of colonialism genocide. Other cases include the genocide of Armenians by Turks in 1915, the elimination of masses in Kosovo by Serbs during the 1990s.  The war for the execution of native people in America, Africa and Australia were also labeled as genocide resulted due to colonialism. Some historians also argue that the Rwandan genocide was also a colonial genocide.

Types of Colonial Genocides

The colonialism is charged for leading two types of genocides; settler genocide and native genocide. The settler genocide is the one where the crime is committed by the settlers of colony. In this type of genocide the settlers commit the mass killing of the native people of that country when they want to eliminate the locality of that country and go to the extreme level to achieve their goal. The obvious reason for the genocide done by the settlers is get control of the land, labor and other resources of that country. This type of genocide was committed by the Nazi Germany which was on the religious and ethnic basis.

The second type of colonialism genocide is native genocide where the crime is committed by the native people in order to eliminate the settlers. However this act is somewhat defense ant not considered as that much brutal as settler genocide because the native people become violent because people from the other region interfere in their matters and try to take control of their administration. In fact, the murder done by the natives are considered as an act of a victim.

There is a psychology behind the native genocide that “For he knows that he is not an animal; and it is precisely when he realizes his humanity that he begins to sharpen the weapons with which he will secure its victory. He, of whom they have never stopped saying that the only language he understands is that of force, decides to give utterance by force.” Indeed, “the argument the native chooses has been furnished by the settler, and by an ironic turning of the tables it is the native who now affirms that the colonialist understands nothing but force”. (Frantz Fanon,)

The two types of colonial genocides are also distinguished as “The settler’s work is to make even dreams of liberty impossible for the native. The native’s work is to imagine all possible methods for destroying the settler . . . For the native, life can only spring up again out of the rotting corpse of the settler . . . for the colonized people, this violence, because it constitutes their only work, invests their character with positive and creative qualities.” (Frantz Fanon)

Colonialism and Genocide in America and Africa

The process of colonialism begun in America when the first known Europeans Vikings (“Norse”) entered in America and formed many colonies there. The present day Newfoundland was the first settlement made for a short time by Leif Erikson with the name of Vinland. The colonies established in Greenland survived for centuries during this period the native people faced lot of harsh behaviors from the settlers. These colonies were dissolved in the fifteenth century. Christopher Columbus reached America in 1492 and after that there was huge increase in the European colonies in America that’s why this time period is also known as “Columbian Exchange” period.

The first conquest for colonization in America was made by the Spanish people who conquered large portion of South and Central America and large portion of North America. Then the Portuguese people succeed to make colony in Brazil, the French people settled in Quebec and Louisiana where as the Dutch made their colonies in the Netherlands. The other European colonies in North America include Spanish Florida Virginia. During the colonialism in America many epidemic diseases were spread in America as a result of the mix-up of some animal species of Europe and America.

Many diseased introduced in America during this time includes Smallpox (1525, 1558, 1589), typhus (1546), influenza (1558), diphtheria (1614) and measles (1618). These diseases caused killing of many people there. The population also looses their cultural and political values during colonization and they also lose their control over their land and other resources. As a result of this colonialism, the population native America was dramatically reduced.

Many of the people were directly killed by the European people and many others lose their lives after suffering from the epidemic diseases. Four centuries after the European colonization of America, the European settlers systematically displace the Native Americans up to a large extent. In this was the crime of cultural genocide was committed in the colonized America by the European people and they force people to loose their lives as well as the cultural norms and values of the region were also diminished. Genocide was committed in America during the period when modernization process was undergoing.

The network of transport and communication was also introduced in the nineteenth century. Technologies like telegraph and trains were also used in the genocide process because these technologies facilitated the people for contacting people in their mother country in less time. This advantage brings to increase in the power of key decision-makers as they keep them in contact with people in mother country and effectively designed their strategies.

The colonization of Africa started in 1830 when the French military attack Algeria. The military was sent by the French King Charles X with the order to occupy the land of Algeria. The attack was successful and as a result France announced in 1948 that Algeria is now the part of France. In this was the first French colony in Africa was founded. However the reason for attacking Algeria was to take revenge of some unwanted action by Algeria but after the victory, the government of France used these colonies as a tool to expand the prestige of France around the world. By the end of nineteenth century the number of French colonies was increased however most of the French colonies were formed in Africa because in other part of the world they face tough competition with the European colonizers. The colonialism here also resulted in genocide and many people were killed as a result of the French invasion in Algeria.

Congo is another victim of colonial genocide which was colonized by Belgium. The state of Congo suffered with severe human loss as a result of Belgium invasion. The King Léopold II was ruling Belgium at that time and he took harsh steps in order to eliminate the native people of Congo. The people in Conge faces precipitously; murder, starvation, exhaustion (due to over-work), and disease from 1880 to 1920 as a result there was a big human loss and a report stated that there was death of 3 million people during 1888 to 1904. a historian Fredric Wert ham wrote a book “A Sign For Cain: An Exploration of Human Violence” in 1966 in which he estimated that “population of the Congo dropped from 30 million to 8.5 million in that period”.

The king of Belgium King Léopold II was given the names of “misanthropist, abolitionist, and self-appointed sovereign of the Congo Free State”, as he conquered the Congo which was 76 times geographically larger than Belgium and he eliminated big number of Congo’s population by committing genocide. Against the mass death of Congo population “The Congo Reform Movement” was formed in the favor of indigenous population of Congo.

The members of this movement were Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Booker T. Washington, and Bertrand Russell.  A sociologist and historian Adam Hochschild wrote a book in 1999 with a name “King Leopold’s Ghost” in which he listed the crimes committed in the regime of King Leopold. He also claimed that the genocide activities of the King lead to the death of 10 million people in Congo. The King Leopold has also been compared with the brutal rule of Nazis.

The Aboriginal Genocide in Australia and Tasmania

The region of Australia Pacific was also colonized by the European settlers. As a result the aboriginal population of Tasmania was eliminated and this genocide of the aboriginal people of Tasmania is considered as a biggest tragedy in world history. The aboriginal people of Tasmania were different and unique from the other people of Australia however they share common believes and values but there was some genetic isolation that existed between them. These differences were reflected in the way of developing cultures and values of aboriginal people, their physical appearance, life style, eating habits etc.

The aboriginal people were having very old history in Australia. “Aborigines probably landed on Cape York, in northern Australia, between – and this is hotly contested at present – 24,000 and 60,000 years ago, forming about 500 tribes with different languages and customs, and numbering between 250,000 and 750,000 at the time of the British arrival, or invasion, in 1788.” (Colin Tatz – Genocide in Australia)

In the beginning of nineteenth century, the first colony was established in the region. At that time there were five thousand aboriginal people in Tasmania. These people were divided in to nine tribes, each of which was consisted of forty to fifty people. The people within a tribe had same language, cultural values and life style. There was also trading relations between the tribes and they used to trade different things like stones, tools, shell necklaces and ochre.

The aboriginal people realized that the white settlers did not have positive intentions towards their land resources so they decided to fight against them in order to defend their land and other resources. For some years there was war between the settlers and aboriginals during which many settlers as well as aboriginals lost their lives however in 1829, the Martial Law was imposed by the Governor Arthur and the aboriginal people were forced to leave the settlers colony areas. The law allowed the settlers to shoot the aboriginal people seen in their area. The situation was getting worst hence the British government planned to shift the remaining aborigines in Bruny Island.

In 1830 an armed force “The Black Line” was formed by the settler which was consisting militia of three thousand. This force was created with aim of sweeping off the aborigines. Many aboriginal people were died as result of the action of this force, the leftover 135 aborigines were moved to Flinders Island but within four years most of them were died either from any disease, depression or as result of uneven conditions.

In 1837 there were only 47 survivors which were finally settled in Oyster Cove, where the conditions were favorable for them. Historians says that Truganini, was the last Aboriginal Tasmanian who died at Oyster Cove, south of Hobart in 1876 and that was the end of aborigines of Tasmania. The death of aboriginals finished their distinct cultural features and the cultural heritage also had been lost.

However, during the last two decades there is strong Aboriginal movement growing in Tasmania and more than six thousand descendants are claiming that they belong to the Aboriginals. These people claim their belongings from different groups like  The Palawa who claim that they have links with the  heritage of settlers and Mannalargenna’s daughters.

Another group is Lia Pootah whose members are children from unrecorded Aboriginal women, who mated with European convicts, sawyers, soldiers, free settlers and farmers. Though they claim their belongings with the aboriginals but they do not have the same language, life style and cultural values like their ancestors.  In this way the Genocide leaded by the Colonialism caused not only the physical death but also the elimination of aboriginal culture and heritage.

Disadvantages of Colonial Genocide

The brutal act of Genocides causes great loss of human lives as well as distortion of their cultural heritage. The human loss is not replaceable but the people who succeed to retain their lives also suffer with great difficulties.  The criminal act of genocide resulted in creating a disappointed post war situation for the native people. Most of the people who managed to secure their lives during genocide have to lead their lives as refugees and they are called as “internally displaced people (IDPs)”. These refugees generally move towards other country in large number, which results in increase of economic, social and political burden of that country. The government of that country keeps the refugees in areas which are usually weaker and less important. The lives of refugees are not full of choices in other countries and they have to lives with limited options.

The mass killing of people not only causes their physical death but as a nation they also loose their cultural heritage. “The settlers not only go for the physical elimination of people but in some cases they have also taken such steps which were aimed at the distortion of the cultural values of native people. Such acts includes the destruction of Armenian churches and Greek/Byzantine monuments in Northern Cyprus; the burning of national archives in Sarajevo; Indian Removal in the United States and similar polices carried out by Australia, Canada and New Zealand aimed at relocating and assimilating indigenous peoples; “banning the use of Korean language, Korean traditions, the use of Korean names, or the teaching of Korean history during the Japanese occupation of Korea” (1910-1945); the destruction of Armenian stone crosses, cemeteries, and khachkars by Azerbaijan in the region of Nakhichevan ,destruction of Azerbaijani cultural heritage in Armenian captured territories, and the destruction of Cambodian monuments and records by the Khmer Rouge”. (The Institute of War and Peace Reporting)

The leftover people also have faces several psychological disorders. Their children also suffer from different mental problems. For example the condition of aboriginals is getting worst in Australia. “There is no doubt that Aboriginal Australia is stumbling inexorably down the road to perdition. Certain events indicate they are knocking on the very gates of hell.”(“Anna Marshal – Australian News Commentary) The problems of the aboriginals in Australia are reflected in the following facts and figures. “In the dysfunctional Aboriginal community of Balgo in Western Australia, one in four children is addicted to petrol sniffing. In 2003, 43 per cent of children born in Balgo suffered low birth weight – less than 2.5 kg. A 16-year-old boy, Owen Gimme hanged himself on 7 November 2002 and 17-year-old Mervyn Milner hanged himself on 23 September 2003. Both were addicted to petrol sniffing.  There were eight suicide attempts by young people at Balgo in the same period.” (Australia News Commentary)

The colonial genocide also gives rise to racism and exploitation of human beings. When the genocide resulted in the removal of a nation from their motherland, the leftover people who move towards other lands face problems on the racial grounds. The large scale displacement of human resources occurs because the victims are considered as low class citizens in other country where they face racial biasness. Even if they have extra ordinary skills in any field, they have to do ordinary jobs and most of the time they go for some odd jobs.

In this way their talent is exploited and they got little opportunities for accelerating their future. Genocide also leads to extremism. The left over victims always keep the horrible memories of the event in their heart and some of them may try to take revenge at any level. But such people are usually very weak and unable to take any step against the powerful settlers but the hatred for the settlers stay in their heart for ever and many of them always look for such chance to make them strong and take revenge and they also hate the country from where the settlers belong.

People are not the only victims of the genocide but the environment where they live also suffer a lot from this destructive process. In the process of genocide when people are killed through the fire, several forests, homes, rare animals and plants have also been burnt. The demolition of forests reduces the fertility of land and the agricultural productivity of the country also suffered from loss. In the cases where epidemic diseases are spread through animals, the live stock also endure deficit.

After genocide occurs, there arise several questions about the punishing the criminals but there are so many controversies and conflicts regarding this issue that in history there is no any considerable example where the criminal are punished by United Nations, any international tribunals or national courts. However the tribunal is established for many years but there are no prominent cases where the proceedings have been completed and the criminals get punishments. After the end of genocide there is always a great need for peace building and reconciliation so that other such acts can be prevented. The rebuilding of any society is has always been a great challenge which invites many confusions and controversies also. Even after the re building of society the living standard of people can not be bring back to their original status.


The above discussion with the reference of colonization in America, Australia and Africa throw light on the links between the colonialism and genocide. It is very clear that the settlers’ colonization is the biggest ground for the crime of genocide. Both of these terms are connected with each other in “cause and effect” manner.  The genocide occurs when the people who want to colonize any country try to eliminate the natives to form their administrative control over the country. So the discussion can be summed up with the conclusion that in many cases “Colonialism leads to Genocides”.


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  2. The aboriginal road to perdition, Anna marshal 24 march 2006 Accessed April 18, 2007
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  5. Colonial genocide, a special issue of patterns of prejudice Accessed April 18, 2007
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  7. Democide – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Accessed April 18, 2007
  8. Franz Fanon (n.d.). From THE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH. Accessed April 18, 2007
  9. French colonialism in Africa Accessed April 18, 2007
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