News | Politics of Memory / Antifascism - German / European History - Africa The Grammars of Genocide

Richard Benda, Dorothee Braun, and Florian Weis in conversation on the meaning of mass violence in history

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Shoes of victims of the Majdanek concentration camp, displayed at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. CC BY 2.0, Flickr/rpavich

The term “genocide” has been coined as a conceptual terrain upon which we reflect on the horrors of the mass atrocities of the twentieth century. While the Shoah is the reference point for an understanding of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the latter provides a painful reminder of Germany’s history in Africa. How can we do justice to the differences, similarities, and peculiarities of mass crimes—of the invisible lines that mark our implications? And what does it tell us about shifting but unstated demarcations of humanity?

The Idea: Connecting the Dots

Mentalizing the different strands that made this conversation happen brings me back to Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s presentation of her then-recent publication, A Human Being Died That Night, at Berlin’s ethnological museum back in 2004. Her book gives accounts of the interviews she conducted with former South African security chief Eugene De Kock, who, following his imprisonment for crimes against black resisters to Apartheid, came to realize his guilt, thereby prompting his identification with the victims and their surviving family members.

For the German audience, this was a thought difficult to tolerate. The conversation that followed centred around comparing South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the Nuremberg Trials. What sticks out in my memory is Pumla’s narration about being hit by the Medusa effect shortly after she recognized De Kock as a human being. It made her greeting hand immobile for some time. I remember that it left me with some confusion, but also the need to better understand the perspectives that seemed irreconcilable to my own.

I met Pumla again in December 2018, when, in her position as the Research Chair in Studies in Historical Trauma and Transformation at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, she hosted an international forum for research and testimony on historical trauma titled “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma”. It was the very forum in which Achille Mbembe held his public lecture on political histories of trauma and traumatogenic institutions, notably capitalism and liberal democracy, more than a year before he became the subject of fierce criticism in Germany.

Stellenbosch was meant to provide a platform for research on violent histories on the continent and beyond. It provided space for different perspectives and painful testimonies. Among these was the account of Richard Benda’s personal history as a witness to the Rwandan genocide and his research on the “Youth Connekt Dialogues” hosted in 2013 by Art for Peace, an association of young Rwandan artists promoting truth and reconciliation with a particular focus on younger generations. Funded by Rwanda’s First Lady Jeanette Kagame’s IMBUTO Foundation, the dialogues brought together hundreds of young people, who told their stories of social disenfranchisement because of what they perceived to be associative transgenerational guilt, of suspicion by survivors, of their desire to help rebuild the country and restore the dignity of childless mothers. In response to his presentation, I invited Richard to support the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung’s East Africa Regional Office in setting up its programme in Rwanda.

Over the course of the “Mbembe controversies”, Florian Weis and I started to exchange ideas on how to bring different histories of violence into a conversation without neglecting particularities or being trapped into categorizations. In the search for answers to Florian’s pertinent questions, the idea of this interview emerged. Florian is not only well-versed in the European workers’ movement, Jewish history, and the history of anti-Semitism and the Shoah. In the 1990s, while he was working on the history of the British Labour Party in relation to German Nazism, Rwanda erupted in 1994 and the civil war in former Yugoslavia, in particular Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, broke out. Thus, Florian’s understanding of the past has been informed by witnessing the present and vice-versa.

I’m convinced that these strands intertwine in complex ways as evidenced in the following conversation that gives account of different forms in which violence, horror and suffering are expressed, articulated, narrated or uttered, and understood. Still, a search for commonalities and underlying patterns takes place that traverses different histories, perspectives, and conceptions, and eventually translated into the notion of grammars of genocide as a title.

Dorothee Braun


Each form of violence has its own way of contaminating, haunting, touching, caressing, and whispering to the other. Their force is particular yet like liquid, as they can spill and seep into the spaces that we carve out as bound off and untouched by the other.

Tiffany Lethabo King, Preface to The Black Shoals[1]

Dorothee Braun: Rwanda 1994 and the Holocaust are regarded as two of the most terrifying and complex catastrophes of the twentieth century. Whether measured by the atrocities against Tutsi and Jews, the distinctiveness of their collective identities, or the deliberate and purposeful manner of their annihilation, there are convincing reasons for seeing in the Rwandan tragedy an analogy of the Shoah. Any attempt to bring those histories into a conversation is haunted by the danger of competitive comparison, as it questions our very idea of the human. In her recent book, Tiffany Lethabo King calls for rewriting or exceeding the modern notion of the human. She questions a Western, dominant knowledge system that is blind to its own ongoing implications in violent histories and does not have the capacity to speak for others on how they (have) experience(d) violence in the world.

Florian Weis: Taking note of this critique, I’m searching for possible solutions to frame the debate on collective and mass atrocities as an attempt to bring different violent histories into a conversation without denying their differences, their victims, and the intentions of the perpetrators. Often, these mass or collective crimes are called genocide. I understand that you pay particular attention to the limitations of the conceptual term “genocide”.[2] How would you name violent histories of the twentieth century? How can we establish a common ground, a conversation that would allow for a comparison without judgment, premature conclusion or strict moral valuing between these crimes and especially their victims?

Richard Benda: How do we name these crimes? It helps that we already have a term that provides a starting point. Not so much a name as a conceptual platform. The term “genocide” literally provides an understanding that—by their essence, by their nature—these crimes intend to eradicate a human group identified by clear specific identity traits and characteristics; to eliminate it from the family of human beings.

Richard Benda is a Tutor and Fellow at the Luther King House, University of Durham, and is a witness to and native researcher on (the Rwandan) genocide and post-conflict transitional processes.

Florian Weis is a historian at the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung whose research largely focuses on British history, the European workers’ movement, as well as the history of anti-Semitism and the Shoah.

Dorothee Braun is the head of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung’s East Africa Regional Office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

It has been my observation that there are always commonalities for those criminal acts we end up calling a mass crime or genocide in the sense that there are historical processes of imagining and creating the Other. Creating distinctive lines of separation between the Other and us. In times of peace—or times of lack of open conflicts to be more precise—those lines of demarcation are quietly and insidiously fed into day-to-day narratives. They are absorbed with criteria of negativity associated with the Other, almost becoming a myth about what the Other is—until political interests arise and reach the point of political crisis. Then those narratives and identities are hardened and weaponized in the sense that what was until then imaginary, fantasy, or anecdotal is elevated to the level of historical truth. New constructs take place. Suddenly the Other group becomes a tangible, clear, and immediate threat and therefore an enemy to get rid of. What I find interesting is how those narratives we weave over time are used to skew our moral sense of what is right and wrong, what is criminal, transgressive, or violent.

With all this in mind, I don’t believe that there should or could be a universal name. There can be a recognition of universal or maybe similar patterns and processes, but there is always something very peculiar or particular—whether to the nationality, the religious group, to the geography or the history of the people who are involved—that creates very clear distinctiveness. And even the political processes that lead into what we call genocide have very clear particularities. These are historical processes that use different landmarks and different memories and different actions, interactions and relationships, which draw on different epistemologies and different moral and legal referential and cultural legacies.

For me, it is very vital to name those instances of mass crimes in ways in which the people who have been involved in them—both protagonists, victims, perpetrators, and the whole constellations of beneficiaries, bystanders, or otherwise implicated subjects—comprehend the tragedies within the appropriate frame of epistemic, moral, and political understanding. That is the only way perpetrators can be prosecuted and how shared history can be fully owned by the victims and the perpetrators, among other things.

FW: In the autumn of 1945, the Nuremberg Tribunal began its work. Last year marked its seventy-fifth anniversary. I think the Nuremberg Tribunal was a very important step not only to punish Nazi Germany, but in providing a reference to international courts. Hence, it has to this date not only historical, but also political relevance. I think every international court that has been set up since then is to some extent referring to Nuremberg. The two terms that interest me here are first the term “genocide”. The second term, “crimes against humanity”, might be more appropriate to also encompass other or future crimes.

I would like to bring different crimes against humanity into conversation. We mentioned the Shoah and Rwanda 1994; there is also Armenia 1915. What about mass crimes that we associate with Stalinism in the 1930s, or, for example, in Mao’s China, where millions of people were killed, or Cambodia in 1975–79? Cambodia was not defined as genocide on grounds of nationality, as the point of reference had been class affiliation. Or we could turn our heads to Europe, to Ireland, and think about the Great Famine in the 1840s. It has been defined by some as some kind of genocide, which I reject. To my understanding, there was no attempt by the British to kill millions of Irish for being Irish. I interpret it as mixture of a brutal kind of Manchester capitalism, neglect, and misjudgement, which took little interest whatsoever in the basic need of millions of people. But of course, the 1840s were a very terrible time, and many of those who survived left the country.

What I want to say is that there are various mass crimes, and they differ from each other. We should even add the mass crimes of the global capitalist system, which certainly does not intend to kill people because they are part of an ethnic or other group—which is a major difference to the Shoah or Rwanda 1994—but the consequences are terrible enough. If I understand it right, you also make reference to consequences of neoliberal capitalism in East Africa, particularly in Rwanda, as one of the factors that contributed to what happened in 1994. My question is whether the term “crimes against humanity” that was invented in 1945 in Nuremberg might be helpful.

RB: I agree in the sense that the term “crimes against humanity” captures the wrongdoing, the victim and the target of the crime, which is the core of essence of this diverse multitude. I also agree that our conversation has to take into consideration different dimensions. In this respect I am very comfortable with “crime against humanity” in singular. The challenge of relating Rwanda 1994 to the Nuremberg nomenclatures of “crime against humanity” or “genocide” is, for me, the colonial anthropology or understanding of what humanity is that suffuses the latter. In 1945, many of these superpowers that were judging the Third Reich officials involved in the “final solution” were themselves involved in colonialism.[3]

I agree that “crimes against humanity” works in the sense that it allows us to understand who the real victim is. What is at stake is our understanding of what it means to be humans in relationships, humans that recognize themselves as human, recognize others as humans and recognize that there has to be a reciprocity in our mutual recognition. What we always have to question is that “humanity” has always been selectively applied. And therefore, we have to make sure that whenever we speak about a “crime against humanity” we always recognize that humanity as a modernist category has always been exclusive in the sense that there were people recognized as humans, and others who were not recognized as such.

The importance of the term “crime against humanity” as well is that it gives us, I suppose, an umbrella concept. This umbrella concept serves as a kind of tree canopy on which to hang the different representations of that crime. What I think is very important is to recognize that, starting with the Namibian genocide in the beginning of the twentieth century all the way to 1994, the challenge has always been that there has always been a sense of hierarchy in the so-called “crimes against humanity”, as if we have to create an order of seniority, superiority, and inferiority regarding the human value of the victims. I always worry that the hierarchization of the crimes reflects our own hierarchies of understanding humanity.

The problem of the Human is … in the enunciations of what it means to be Human—enunciations that are concocted and circulated by those who most convincingly (and powerfully) imagine the “right” or ‹noble› or ‹moral› characteristics of Human into the sphere of Universal Humanness. The Human is therefore the product of a particular epistemology, yet it appears to be (and is accepted as) a naturally independent entity existing in the world. Implicit in this epistemological framework are the worldviews of those who have been cast as non-Human or less-than-Human. … Here, clearly, imperial epistemologies emerge alongside the widespread coloniality of knowledge. Christian theology, secular philosophy, and sciences that were formed and shaped under European monarchies and nation–states.

Sylvia Wynter, “What Does It Mean to Be Human?”[4]

It goes almost unnoticed, as if we fail to recognize that there have always been levels of what is human and what is not human, and that has serious implications in terms of how we appreciate the cultures of the others, the languages of the others, their epistemic ability to name the phenomenon so the contextual and phenomenological aspect of it will be represented. Take Rwanda 1994 as an example, which in my opinion has not found an appropriate name in Kinyarwanda yet. Well, “Rwanda 1994” has found a name in the sense that it has moved from being known as Itsembabwoko and Itsembatsemba to being named jenoside,[5] which has become the Kinyarwanda–ization of the term “genocide”. It is functional, but as I said before, it fails to make any reference to equivalent linguistic concepts that can describe material, moral, and legal elements of actions and abstentions, while at the same time conveying the sense of betrayal, horror, absurdity, and helplessness.

DB: You just mentioned that in Rwanda, an appropriate term to comprehend the massive scale of the atrocities has not been found yet. In your work, you underline the importance of ownership in defining, conceptualizing, and conveying the tragedy within the specificity of Rwandans’ epistemic world. However, it took only one month of quickly seizing, analysing, defining, and naming by using historical models and legal frameworks of a different era and a different context from outside that the United Nations accepted that the crimes taking place in Rwanda constituted genocide. Thus, any internal debate on any particular conceptualizing was pre-empted and foreclosed before it started. From one day to the next, a concept that was totally unknown in the country’s language became the main lens through which the world came to understand Rwanda and Rwandans.

RB: What I am at pains to highlight and bring into focus are cultural and epistemic specificities, including the way people understand their realities. Context matters to me, in particular as a Rwandan, an African growing up in a post-colonial environment. Highlighting what I was trying to call hierarchy as an epistemic understanding is of importance to me. The level of global value that a group that lives through the experience of unprecedented violence holds will determine how comfortable they will own their experiences. That is why I have always challenged the name “genocide” in application to Rwanda 1994—not because I would dare deny or underplay its genocidal essence, but because you begin to worry that the same sort of hegemonic global knowledge culture will take over the contextual particularities of this historical crime.

In fact, this is already an uphill battle. People in my position have become reactionary or annoying voices, backed into the corner of having to continually and stridently reclaim “our” particularities. A major consequence of this being that the world in general and the world of scholarship in particular are robbed of a precious opportunity to develop a much-needed tradition that looks at and learns from the shared communalities between these crimes. Everyone seems busy trying to demonstrate how the specificities of their experience make it the superior crime, the paradigm. So, I would introduce my work on the Rwandan catastrophe by detailing how it was the most brutal genocide in the twentieth century, how intimate it was because it was committed within the fabric of the pillars that glue communities together and how it really was the unmaking of those ties, etc.

I must say as a parenthesis that in this respect, what makes the Shoah painful for Germany is in a way similar to what makes Rwanda 1994 almost unbearable for Rwandans: there is an intimacy, a level of mutual penetration that was almost taken for granted and that was torn asunder.

FW: From a German or European perspective, what makes the Shoah further horrible is that it developed in a country, in a society that has a self–image of being educated, influenced by enlightenment, a society that thought it had developed lofty values of education, technology, etc.

The problem, the personal problem, was not what our enemies did but what our friends did. In the wave of Gleichschaltung (co–ordination), which was relatively voluntary—in any case, not yet under the pressure of terror—it was as if an empty space formed around one. I lived in an intellectual milieu, but I also knew other people. And among intellectuals Gleichschaltung was the rule, so to speak. But not among the others. And I never forgot that. ... I still think that it belongs to the essence of being an intellectual that one fabricates ideas about everything. No one ever blamed someone if he “co–ordinated” because he had to take care of his wife or child. The worst thing was that some people really believed in Nazism! For a short time, many for a very short time. But that means that they made up ideas about Hitler, in part terrifically interesting things! Completely fantastic and interesting and complicated things! Things far above the ordinary level! I found that grotesque. Today I would say that they were trapped by their own ideas.

Hannah Arendt, “What Remains? The Language Remains”: A Conversation with Günter Gaus[6]

I think it destroyed the illusion of being part of a linear development, that history is marching onwards to progress and humanity. It destroyed much of the understanding of parts of the so-called “educated classes” about human and social progress. It also destroyed in a way a lot of the workers’ movement’s optimism all over Europe, as it was based on the concept that advancing working classes together with technological progress and human progress would bring some kind of liberation to mankind in general. The problem particularly with Germany was this cultural heritage in literature, music, philosophy, and so on—widely acknowledged even outside the German-speaking countries—being combined with political nationalism, technological and industrial power, militarism, and the understanding of a united national state competing with other powers to become the dominant power in Europe. I think this sense of a superior cultural heritage combined with the power of technology and a nationalistic and authoritarian rationale made the German development in the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century so dangerous.

I want to take up the point that you made earlier. A debate was initiated in Germany 15 years ago concerning what constituted the first of these new types of mass atrocities that are understood as genocide. Some start with Armenia 1915, others start, as you do, with Namibia 1904–05.

Being the heirs of the living-history of Namibia with all its tortured-textures and consistent micro-aggression and oppressions, unfortunately—and perhaps fortunately in the long term—calls us to interrogate that history and deeply examine “what it is that we are” so that we may be able to unpack and expand the horizons of our self-concepts by restoring dignity to ourselves and to our ancestors that lie in uncovered graves all over this country. …. And to address the historic murder, plunder, pillage, and dehumanization of specifically the Nama(qua) and OvaHerero people through the genocide of 1904–1908, but also all Namibians that have lived in this country for the last 200 years.

Keith Vries, “A Call to Unpack and Interrogate History: Reflecting on Ovizire/Somgu[7]

RB: I think we have to start there. When you look at the way Germany has dealt with the recognition of what happened in Namibia and the recognition of what happened during the Shoah, there is a strange asymmetry between these two instances of political responsibility. Yet the effects on the Herero people—and again I am not falling into facile comparisons—were equally devastating in terms of the near extinction of the OvaHerero and Namaqua people. And what about the narrative and politics of reparation? The gaps and asymmetries are of great interest for me.

First of all, it is the process of recognizing that the genocide in Namibia happened. It feels almost as if because it happened within a colonial endeavour, it makes the horror justifiable—it was an unfortunate by-product of civilizing a recalcitrant people. Whether that is even justifiable is beyond our discussion here, but here you have a society—and former empire—that has recognized that there was a clear policy and strategy of dismantling a people in the Shoah. This recognition has created a whole self-understanding within German politics—and sometimes I think within personal morality—in terms of what it means to be accountable towards that event.

And here is what I lament: I lament the lack of informed and uniform recognition of responsibility that would bring the Shoah and the Namibian genocide in the same orbit of Germany’s national consciousness. And whether this is because of a fictive hierarchy of victims or historical facts I do not know, but Namibia remains for me a point of question in German self-understanding with regard to their historical responsibility vis-á-vis mass crimes. I also wonder if there is a perception that because this did not happen on German soil, it is therefore different or of lesser importance. In conclusion to this point, the history of Germany in Africa remains something the Germans are very ill-informed about, and therefore Africa becomes another issue of special concern or epistemic hierarchy in my understanding.

FW: There are some explanations to understand why the response is different. One: yes, the Holocaust took place in German-conquered areas of Central and Eastern Europe. It was closer to Germany and it involved, among other Jewish and non-Jewish victims, the savage persecution of Jewish Germans who used to live in Germany up to 1933 or 1938 or even longer. The second point: without the total defeat in 1945, we wouldn’t have this kind of dealing with German responsibility for mass atrocities. Had the Allies changed the concept of unconditional surrender in 1944, we possibly would have had a situation similar to 1918, when Germany lost the war and the extreme right was able to sell their narratives of domestic betrayal (the so-called Dolchstoßlegende).

Germany in 1945 was a totally defeated nation. There was no chance of claiming “we are not defeated”, or telling lies that all of Europe shared the same responsibility for the war and the mass atrocities and so on. The only chance was that everyone in Germany was made to see that Germany had lost the war totally. It enabled them, albeit years and decades later, to think about their own atrocities. 1918 of course was a time when Germany was stripped of its status as a colonial power. It seems very far away for many people. I think that, due to the defeat in World War I and the loss of a status as a colonial power and oppressor, this is out of reach for many people in Germany.

RB: What you just said is so important, as it addresses the enquiry into what gives these mass atrocities their acknowledgment and validity; what makes the importance of the total defeat of the perpetrator and the vindication of the victims so visible. For I am absolutely certain that if the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) had not taken power in Rwanda in July 1994, the million or so of the Tutsi that had been killed—what we call the Rwandan genocide, or Rwanda 1994—might have passed as an instance of regrettable death or mere collateral damage within the context of a civil war. And as you rightly said, had Germany not been completely defeated, an awful lot would have been omitted by Germany and the Third Reich. The satellite states in Europe and the militias who were enlisted—whether in Romania, Croatia, or other places—would literally have gotten away with murder. This is certainly very important when we consider the situation of the Armenian genocide in the sense that the Turkish authorities have never officially recognized that they were involved in the genocide against the Armenians, as there was no clear loss of total power to control the narrative.

We have to recognize the precariousness of recognition. It is this worry that brings me back to how we conceive of humanity and who conceives of humanity, and this touches obviously on other historical injustices like slavery and colonialism in the sense that when the victims of this historical crimes come out on top or they have a sort of “defender”, their plight becomes an issue of humanity, of global concern. If they lose or come out as powerless, then it almost inevitably becomes a lesser issue for international humanitarian law, petitions, and interest groups. I think it is very important to recognize the connection between power and the recognition of mass atrocities. It is important in my opinion to problematize how humanity is vindicated if it is only vindicated by victory through “violent” power. I think it is Jean Amery who said in At the Mind’s Limits that when we come out of these atrocities, we don’t come out better, more enlightened, more humane and so forth. It is precisely that pragmatic aspect of recognition that forms a stumbling stone for me. It is the contingence of it, how contingent this recognition is, because actually the pendulum could have swung towards oblivion! Victory, power, and visibility matter in all these major crimes or genocides that have been recognized. I just want to ask ourselves not to lose track of that aspect that maybe brings us back to the Namibian situation as well.

FW: You mentioned a very important point, namely the aspect of power, or being defeated like fortunately Germany was in 1945. I think this is very important because it is not an accident that the Shoah was committed by Germany. I think there are many reasons why Germany and not another country took that path. But that does not mean that it was absolutely unavoidable or that anti-Semitism did not exist in other countries. Of course it did. That brings me back to the point of power, war, and revolution in this context. What happened in Germany in 1933 could not be defined as a revolution. We may debate whether it was a counterrevolution, but of course without World War II we would have seen a very, very severe and inhumane discrimination against Jewish people, but we would not have seen this kind of systematic mass murder of six million Jews. This brings me back to the context of Rwanda and other situations, always thinking of your term “power” and the context of dehumanization, which existed before the special circumstances of war, which were necessary circumstances to bring out these very brutal crimes against humanity or whatever we call it. We must find a way through which neither the deeper circumstances like racism nor the specific political, social, and economic circumstances that made these tendencies particularly dangerous are neglected.

RB: I agree that we have to thoroughly research the processes in which crisis points make this sort of dormant or diffuse alienation suddenly more crystallized and sharpened into weapons. This seems to happen in the context of political crisis and/or warfare, and I think there is no way we can formulate the discourse on crimes against humanity without discussing issues of war and revolution. I fail to see a place where they emerge out of nothing, ex nihilo so to speak, without the sort of crises that are supposed to camouflage or make them bearable, which is what I call the “weaponization of political processes”. In time of crises, they are appropriated and used against the victims.

There are parallels and I think that has touched the basis of comparison: the undercurrent of war and crisis that has to be present. Even in Rwanda, the pogroms against the Tutsi that started in 1959 happened in the context of what is called the “Popular Revolution of 1959” by the mass of the Hutu population, which translated into the burning of houses and the beginning of the exodus of Tutsi into Burundi, Uganda, and the Congo. This obviously has its consequences as the children—not even the children, the grown-up generation of those refugees—came back in 1990. The civil war of 1990–94, or the “struggle for liberation” as the RPF called it, was the immediate backdrop to the genocide of 1994.

I would like to return to the starting point, as we seem to be borrowing concepts from historical precedents. Florian, as a historian, do you think that there is what I may call “coloniality of knowledge”? Coloniality of knowledge that is born out of the Shoah having come first, therefore making very difficult to navigate or to create a sui generis lexicon for the Rwandan genocide? In terms of discourse, in terms of naming and concepts applied, it feels like re-inventing the wheel because we should use concepts that have become common knowledge. In which sense should we speak of intellectual colonialism for discourses on subsequent genocides? I see a risk of intellectual laziness that is harmful.

FW: I suppose I see your point and I do not have a good answer at the moment. I think it is quite understandable that you are looking back to explanations and take this as a starting point to develop a more abstract concept of current developments. You are quite right that most of German and European debates are centred on Europe. As I said before, I don’t think that is uncommon. What we are now seeing is a very belated attempt to recognize other atrocities. I think the point of developing a concept of comparison is of importance.

We need to achieve a wider comparison, not just on the European level. We have to recognize the broadness around it, the points of crises, the points of no return, when something like a crime against humanity or an atrocity develops out of a situation, out of a crisis, war or revolution. To me this process of escalation is of utmost importance, as I believe it can to some extent be politically influenced. Working with an umbrella concept seems quite helpful to me as it enables the search for arranging different types or categories, not as a hierarchy of victims but as a method of describing special circumstances and defining the system or classification of crimes against humanity.


[1] King, Tiffany Lethabo, The Black Shoals, Duke University Press, 2019, Kindle edition

[2] The term “genocide” was first coined by Raphael Lemkin who drafted the genocide convention for the United Nations shortly after World War II. Whereas Lemkin seems to have been concerned mainly with Nazi rule in Central and Eastern Europe and the brutal and murderous violence against the civilian population of these lands, the field of genocidal studies has since widened and includes the colonial field.

[3] It is important to note that historians have interpreted Lemkin’s concept of “genocide” as fully applicable to the colonial enterprise. See Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. The Lawbook Exchange, 2008, particularly p. 78.

[4] Sylvia Wynter, On Being Human as Praxis, edited by Katherine McKittrick, Duke University Press, 2015, p. 108.

[5] The full appellation is jenoside yakorewe Abatutsi.

[6] Hannah Arendt, Essays in Understanding, 1930–1954, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, pg. 11, Kindle Edition.