Ethnic Cleansing

What is ethnic cleansing?

Ethnic cleansing has yet to be recognised as an independent crime under international law. The term was first used in the 1990s and the conflicts arsing from the breakup of Yugoslavia. The UN established a Commission of Experts pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 to investigate violations of international law in Yugoslavia. This Commission released an interim report (PDF, 2.8MB) in 1993. According to this report, ethnic cleansing involved "... rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area." In its final report (PDF, 199KB) in 1994, the Commission described the act as "... a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from a certain geographic area."

How these persons are removed can involve a number of practices for example murder, torture, extrajudicial killings, forced deportation, sexual violence, robbery and destruction of property and attacks or threatened attacks on civilian populations. These acts can constitute crimes against humanity and, given the context, could also constitute war crimes. The Commission also noted the acts falling under ethnic cleansing could also fall under the crime of genocide.