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Economic and Political Causes of Genocidal Violence: A comparison with findings on the causes of civil war


  • Frances Stewart



Genocide is different from civil war: it usually involves deaths on a much larger scale and targets particular groups – mostly civilians - often with the aim of exterminating them. The violence is one-sided, and, fortunately, genocides are much rarer than civil wars. Although with genocide, as with civil wars, it is possible to identify underlying political and economic patterns that make genocide more likely, there have been two distinct strands of investigation by social scientists: studies of the economic and political causes of ‘normal’ civil war; and those studying genocide. This paper contrasts the findings of the two strands of investigation, focussing on quantitative investigations, exploring the main differences in findings, and pointing to policy conclusions that emerge. It finds that civil wars tend to be higher in low income countries and in intermediate regimes, whereas genocides tend to be higher in low and middle income countries and in authoritarian regimes. Both, however, are more common during political upheaval and transition. In the case of genocides, civil wars themselves are one important predisposing condition. Hence policies to prevent civil wars may also contribute to preventing genocide. Once a situation has evolved in which there are high risks or actual episodes, any policy advice about preventative action is likely to fall on deaf ears. What is important is that appropriate policies should be in place in every multiethnic society to avoid a high risk situation emerging.

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  • Frances Stewart, 2011. "Economic and Political Causes of Genocidal Violence: A comparison with findings on the causes of civil war," Research Working Papers 46, MICROCON - A Micro Level Analysis of Violent Conflict.
  • Handle: RePEc:mcn:rwpapr:46

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Frank W. Wayman & Atsushi Tago, 2010. "Explaining the onset of mass killing, 1949-87," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 47(1), pages 3-13, January.
    2. R. J. Rummel, 1995. "Democracy, Power, Genocide, and Mass Murder," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 39(1), pages 3-26, March.
    3. Graham Brown & Arnim Langer, 2010. "Conceptualizing and Measuring Ethnicity," Oxford Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 38(4), pages 411-436.
    4. Val Percival & Thomas Homer-Dixon, 1998. "Environmental Scarcity and Violent Conflict: The Case of South Africa," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 35(3), pages 279-298, May.
    5. World Bank, 2002. "Globalization, Growth, and Poverty : Building an Inclusive World Economy," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 14051.
    6. James D. Fearon, 2005. "Primary Commodity Exports and Civil War," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 49(4), pages 483-507, August.
    7. repec:cup:apsrev:v:90:y:1996:i:04:p:715-735_20 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Sang Hoo Bae & Attiat Ott, 2008. "Predatory Behavior Of Governments: The Case Of Mass Killing," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 19(2), pages 107-125.
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