Genocide and Humanitarian Intervention: Incorporating the Gender Variable

Adam Jones [1]
Profesor, División de Estudios Internacionales
Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE)
Carret. México-Toluca 3655
Col. Lomas de Santa Fe
C.P. 01210, México, D.F., MÉXICO


The gender variable is one of the least-analyzed and most misunderstood elements of genocidal killing. This paper seeks to develop the author’s inclusive framing of “gendercide,” i.e., gender-selective mass killing, by exploring the relevance of gender to genocide prevention and humanitarian intervention. Among the specific arguments to be advanced is that the genocidal or proto-genocidal targeting of males, especially “battle-age” men, is one of the most reliable indicators of the onset, or impending onset, of fullscale genocide. In the three “classic” genocides of the twentieth century, for example – against the Armenian community in Turkey, European Jews, and the Tutsis of Rwanda – fullscale genocide was preceded by a wide range of gender-selective measures, including mass roundups and localized killings of men. The demonization of out-group males was a key feature of the propaganda discourse that paved the way for genocide. In addition, the initial stages of all these genocides overwhelmingly targeted males for extermination, a phenomenon that is also evident in numerous contemporary and historical cases. Associated patterns of the demonization of “out-group” women, and abuses including rape and sexual assault, need to be factored into the analysis. I also devote a separate section to “The Challenge of Gendercidal Institutions,” focusing on one – maternal mortality – in which state-sponsored negligence kills hundreds of thousands of women annually.


The gender variable is one of the least-analyzed and most misunderstood elements of genocidal killing. This article seeks to develop the author’s inclusive framing of “gendercide,” i.e., gender-selective mass killing, by exploring the relevance of gender to genocide prevention and humanitarian intervention. Among the specific arguments to be advanced is that the genocidal or proto-genocidal targeting of males, especially “battle-age” men, is one of the most reliable indicators of the onset, or impending onset, of fullscale genocide. In the three “classic” genocides of the twentieth century, for example – against the Armenian community in Turkey, European Jews, and the Tutsis of Rwanda – fullscale genocide was preceded by a wide range of gender-selective measures, including mass roundups and localized killings of men. The demonization of out-group males was a key feature of the propaganda discourse that paved the way for genocide. In addition, the initial stages of all these genocides overwhelmingly targeted males for extermination, a phenomenon that is also evident in numerous contemporary and historical cases. Associated patterns of the demonization of “out-group” women, and abuses including rape and sexual assault, also need to be factored into the analysis. I also devote a separate section to “The Challenge of Gendercidal Institutions,” focusing on one – maternal mortality – in which state-sponsored negligence kills hundreds of thousands of women annually.

I begin by examining the incorporation of the gender variable into both international relations and genocide studies. In the latter half of the article, the gender policies of two institutions that play a key role in humanitarian interventions – the United Nations and human-rights NGOs – are considered and critiqued. The argument will be that these institutions have, on balance, paid only the most limited attention to the vulnerability of the group most typically targeted in genocidal killing – younger, “battle-age” males. This focus on males reflects, and is designed to partly redress, the marginalization of male victims from the discourse of human rights and humanitarian intervention. It should not be seen as suggesting that men and boys are in any way “more important” as subjects of analyses than women and girls. Rather, I contend that the link between women/femininity and humanitarian emergencies has been relatively well conceptualized and explored by feminist scholarship, and entrenched as a subject of legitimate concern in the policies and coverage developed by the key institutions already referred to. The challenge of expanding the framework of “gender” beyond women has, however, barely begun to be met, and urgently requires scholarly and institutional consideration.

Gendering Genocide

In the field of genocide studies, the gender variable has been “invisible or barely visible,” an “obfuscation” that “may reflect the fact that it is non-combatant males who tend overwhelmingly to be the victims of gender-selective mass killing, and this remains a powerful taboo in the feminist-dominated discussion of gender.” [2] Only one book has appeared that claims to address the subject of gender and genocide: Ronit Lentin’s edited collection Gender & Catastrophe. [3] The editor’s introduction describes women as “uniquely at risk” in genocidal outbreaks, and the volume as a whole attempts to illustrate “the ways [in which] women are targeted by genocides and catastrophes.” [4] It is a worthwhile contribution, but also a blinkered one. And apart from case-studies of women’s victimization in individual genocides, mostly focused on the former Yugoslavia, [5] nothing has appeared subsequently, to my knowledge.

It was with this analytical gulf in mind that I wrote my article “Gendercide and Genocide” for Journal of Genocide Research; and also the reason that I co-launched, in February 2000, a Web-based educational project called Gendercide Watch (, which seeks to confront gender-selective mass killings and other atrocities against both men and women worldwide. In marked contrast to the response generated by my work in gender and international relations, both projects have benefited by a quite extraordinary receptiveness. At the same time, however, criticisms have been voiced about the “gendercide” framing. One issue is whether the term itself can legitimately be used to refer to selective genocidal attacks on men and women (or boys and girls). In a paper presented to the 2001 meeting of the Association of Genocide Scholars, for instance, R. Charli Carpenter argues that a clear distinction should be drawn between (biological) sex and (culturally-constructed) gender, and what I call “gendercide” would better be referred to as “sex-selective massacre.” [6]

This is not the place for an extended discussion of this subject, [7] but I believe there are solid grounds for using “gender” as shorthand to designate for the continuum of biologically-given and culturally-constructed attributes; that such a practice is common in “colloquial usage” and in “much international discourse pertaining to women,” as Carpenter, for one, recognizes; and that use of the term “gendercide” is amply in keeping with the original deployment of the term, by Mary Anne Warren in her 1985 book Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection. [8] Much seems to be gained in terms of nomenclatural convenience, and little analytical force surrendered, if the specific context of “gender” is simply borne in mind.

Carpenter also notes that using the term gendercide “is not without its political advantages.” It “creates an obvious semantic corollary to the much-abused term ‘genocide.’” It helps to “advanc[e] a normative argument that policymakers and activists turn their brains on.” I would not deny for a moment that the political-activist component is integral to my research on gendercide, nor that this component is greatly aided by deployment of a term that is both evocative and concise. The political aspect of the project also prompts my focus on “sex-selective massacre.”

Carpenter is quite right when she contends that it would be disastrous for studies of gender and genocide to become preoccupied with this theme to the exclusion of all else. Her specific recommendations for building on the existing gendercide literature – such as further exploring the age variable, destabilizing heterosexual assumptions, and examining gendered discourses of humanitarian intervention – strike me as convincing and well thought-out. Thus, gendercide should not be the focus of gender-and-genocide research. In my view, however, it should remain a legitimate focus of such research. And it is perhaps one of the most urgent ones, given that the phenomenon of gender-selective mass killing has not, until now, been framed inclusively, analyzed within a comparative and global-historical framework, or integrated into the policy and humanitarian discussion and agenda.

In the activist context, in which “issues” must be carefully defined and energetically lobbied, the validity of a focus on gender-selective mass killing becomes clearer still. Primary attention to the most atrocious real-world reflections of gender bias can create the kind of cognitive “shock” that is vital to establishing phenomena as issues and problems. It is especially vital to draw attention to male victims, since the culture’s prevailing obliviousness to this category of victims means that only the worst abuses have a chance of being viewed as morally problematic and worthy of policy concern.

In the remainder of this article, I seek to extend my previous research on gendercide by concentrating on its relevance to the policy sphere and strategies of intervention in humanitarian emergencies, including genocidal and proto-genocidal campaigns.

Strategies of Humanitarian Intervention

How might more nuanced and sustained attention to the role of gender in genocide – in particular, an analytical framework that incorporates victimized or vulnerable males – affect strategies of genocide prevention and humanitarian intervention? I will build the following analysis around the prelude and onset/outbreak stages of genocide.

The Prelude Stage

There are two key areas in which gender seems to play a significant role in preludes to genocidal killing: mass detentions, torture, and selective killing of “battle-age” males, and the demonization of both males and females, but especially males, as part of the campaign of stigmatization, marginalization, and concentration that standardly precedes the onset of larger-scale or full-blown genocide. Those seeking to isolate “warning signs” of genocidal outbreaks should therefore attend closely to this gendered patterns of anathematization and persecution – along with other important (and standardly gendered) indicators, such as the development of paramilitary forces, primordial appeals to racial and ethnic identity, the cultivation of “the politics of verbal assault and physical violence,” and the deepening of inter-generational cleavages. [9]

The detention, abuse, and selective killing of “out-group” males as a signal of impending mass slaughter is quite clear in the case of the twentieth century’s “classic” genocide, the Jewish holocaust. A major marker on the road to genocide was the Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) on November 9-10, 1938, when Hitler’s thugs targeted Jewish citizens and property for largescale violence and destruction. In the aftermath of the Kristallnacht, the Nazis rounded up at least 30,000 Jewish males and incarcerated them in concentration camps. As Eugen Kogon writes,

These arrests were made without regard for age. Ten-year old boys could be seen side by side with septuagenarians and octogenarians. En route from the Wiemar [sic: Weimar] railroad station [to the camp at Buchenwald] all stragglers were shot down, while the survivors were forced to drag the bloody bodies into camp. … Inside stood the Block Leaders, wielding iron rods, whips and truncheons, and virtually every Jew who got into the camp sustained injuries. The events that took place at the time are not easily described in a few words. Let me merely mention that sixty-eight Jews went mad that very first night. They were clubbed to death like mad dogs … four men at a time. … SS noncoms pushed the heads of some of their charges into overflowing latrine buckets until they suffocated.

Eventually, “for reasons that never became clear, most of the[se] Jews were set free on orders from the Reich authorities” and allowed to go into exile. Exactly a year later, however, after “an alleged attempt on Hitler’s life,” Jewish men in Buchenwald “were suddenly recalled from their [work] details and confined to barracks.” The Germans “picked out twenty-one Austrian and German Jews, entirely at random, without any list. Most of them were vigorous young men. … The SS took the group out through the gatehouse and shot them at close range in the quarry.” [10]

It is scarcely surprising that by the time such abuses and atrocities spilled over to fullscale genocide, “the [Nazis’] decision to kill every Jew did not seem to demand special justification to kill Jewish men,” as Joan Ringelheim notes. “They were already identified as dangerous. … Jewish men were always considered an objective enemy of National Socialism.” [11]

A similar process of roundup, detention, and ill-treatment of out-group males was evident in the prelude to the Rwandan genocide, beginning with the invasion of Rwanda by the RPF rebels in 1990. In October 1990 a pogrom was launched against Tutsis which began – like the 1994 genocide – with the imposition of a curfew. “I got scared as soon as I heard the word curfew” in April 1994, recalled one young man. “The curfew in October 1990 had been a disaster for Tutsi men. Thousands of them were arrested and thrown into prison. Some died. I feared the same thing would happen again.” [12] When the genocide first erupted, Tutsi males – as well as many Hutu men of an oppositionist bent – understood immediately that they were at greatest risk. “As soon as I heard that Habyarimana had been assassinated, I knew they would go for all Tutsis, especially Tutsi men,” one survivor, Emmanuel Ngezahayo, told African Rights. [13] In general, “they” did, although the nature and evolution of the mass-killing enterprise in Rwanda is a matter of some dispute (see the following section for further discussion).

One other case-study is worth citing in this context, though in scale it can hardly be compared with the Jewish and Rwandan catastrophes. In the prelude to the Kosovo war – the period from 1989 to 1998 – there is little question that the focus of Serb occupation strategies revolved around the detention, abuse, and intimidation above all of younger Kosovar males. Women certainly numbered among those detained by Yugoslav security forces during this period. But as Julie Mertus noted shortly before the outbreak of the Kosovo war, “while police … routinely stop ethnic Albanian men, women and children can usually walk the street without police harassment.” Thus, when Mertus cites the astonishing statistic that between 1989 and 1997 “584,373 Kosovo Albanians – half the adult population – [was] arrested, interrogated, interned or remanded” by the Serb police state, one can reasonably guess which half. [14]

Analyses of past atrocities, however, can do little to help the victims apart from retrospectively validating their suffering. The challenge is to apply the lessons to the conflicts of the present, and there is no shortage of contemporary case-studies meriting urgent attention.

Gender and Witch-Hunts

One of the most interesting and potentially useful fields for future research into gender and genocide is the process of demonization that standardly accompanies the “prelude” phase. Both women and men of designated out-groups may be viciously anathematized by the purveyors of genocidal hatred. But while the female side of the phenomenon has received some scholarly attention, notably in the context of the European witch-hunts and the Rwanda genocide, the male dimension, though more pervasive and analytically significant, has been almost entirely ignored. A rare and welcome exception, though hardly a sustained analysis, can be found in Deborah Willis’s study of the English witch-hunts, Malevolent Nurture. In the concluding paragraph of the book, Willis provides an important digression on “some of the most virulent of the twentieth-century ‘witch-hunts,’” in which “violence has been directed against symbolic ‘fathers’ or other figures of authority.” The trend is especially prominent “in countries where newly emergent but precarious ruling elites needed ‘others’ to blame for the serious economic or other problems they faced.” Her example is Stalin’s purges in the USSR:

During the 1930s and 1940s in Stalin’s Soviet Union, leadership fractured at all levels, not only within Stalin’s “inner circle” but also within local and regional party machines (paralleling in some ways the neighborly quarrels and religious controversies that divided early modern communities). As power oscillated between different factions, purges were carried out in the name of Stalin, “Father of the Country,” “the Great and Wise Teacher,” “the Friend of Mankind,” against the antifathers and betraying sons who had perverted the socialist program, the “enemies with party cards.” Underlying the psychology of the purges may have been, among other things, the magical beliefs of the Russian peasantry, still lively in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, translated after the Revolution into the language of “scientific socialism.” Rather than the female witch, however, it was the male possessed by evil spirits who anticipated the typical target of persecutory violence – the “evil spirits” of foreign, class-alien, or counterrevolutionary ideas. Demystified, secularized, stripped of his supernatural power, the great demonic adversary no longer needed to seduce a weaker [female] vessel but could walk among the elect as one of their own. [15]

Research on this subject is so lacking that one is forced to develop Willis’s point in a somewhat impressionistic and intuitive fashion. A useful way of proceeding may be to invite the reader to engage in two rather macabre speculations. First, returning to the twentieth century’s “classic” genocide, consider the Jew – the purportedly “evil,” “shiftless,” “dirty,” “skulking,” “subversive,” “rodent-like,” “hook-nosed” Jew – of Nazi propaganda. How was this grotesque propaganda portrait gendered? Was the Jewish enemy generally depicted as male or female? It is hard not to agree with the evaluation of Claudia Koonz, who notes the standard motif in which “Germany [was] pictured as an innocent female, about to be attacked by a hyper masculinized male – the Jew.” [16] It was for this reason and by this process that Jewish men were “already identified as dangerous” (recall Joan Ringelheim’s comment earlier). Detailed content analyses of Nazi and other hate-propaganda would be needed to establish the accuracy and boundaries of this argument; but as a general proposition, it seems difficult to deny.

The second speculation may have broader applicability. The reader is asked to take the following pejorative terms and descriptions frequently applied by would-be and actual génocidaires to the members of the out-groups they target:

• evil • monster • demon • vampire/bloodsucker • parasite • vermin • sub-human • enemy • terrorist/subversive • rebel • spy • predator • bandit • criminal • rapist • schemer/scheming • corrupt • dirty • shiftless/shifty • vagabond • exploiter

Now impose a human face on each of these genocidal stereotypes – or, if this is too uncomfortable a proposition, imagine the face that the architects of genocide have tended to attach to these designations. Is it a male or a female face that comes to mind first and most vividly … perhaps exclusively?

Consider a handful of additional genocidal stereotypes:

• seducer • prostitute/whore • baby-factory • witch • child-killer

Here female “faces” would likely dominate overwhelmingly or exclusively in the first three cases, and would also figure strongly in the latter two. There are, therefore, ways in which women/females are effectively demonized. Perhaps it is fair to argue, however, that the available range of genocidal stereotypes is much narrower for women; and that when genocidal language and strategies are “gendered,” they are most likely to focus on males, especially those of “battle age.”

The sexual nature of most of the anti-female stereotypes points to the important role of sexual harassment, abuse, and attacks – as well as allegations of the same committed by out-group males – as a prelude to genocidal outbreaks. One of the most dramatic examples of the sexual demonization of women in a pre-genocidal context is Rwanda. Linda Melvern points out in her study A People Betrayed that of the notorious “Ten Commandments” propounded by the “Hutu Power” movement, “the first three … referred to Tutsi women; the first commandment forbade marriage between Hutu and Tutsi because every Tutsi woman was a traitor and Hutu girls made more suitable mothers.” In general, “here was enormous propaganda [directed] against Tutsi women in the build-up to genocide and the hatred mobilization [later] allowed the most inhumane acts of sexual violence to take place.” [17]

It should be pointed out that a corollary phenomenon, the demonization of out-group males as “rapists,” has been a common feature of proto-genocidal situations. In her study of “how myths and truths started a war” in Kosovo, Julie A. Mertus notes that “a sexualized imagery of Albanian men and women was adopted … in the mainstream Serbian and Yugoslav presses,” with “Albanian men … declared to be rapists, although Kosovo had the lowest reported incidents of sexual violence in Yugoslavia.” (Albanian women, meanwhile, “were portrayed as mere baby factories, despite statistics indicating that the childbirth rates of urban Albanian women and those of other urban women in Yugoslavia were nearly identical.”) [18] Such charges of rape – so central to the murder of thousands of Black men in lynchings in the U.S. Deep South – also serve as a powerful indicator that a campaign of mass violence, if not outright genocide, is being prepared.

A Note on Gender and Economic Crisis

One of the most predictable features of a pre- or proto-genocidal situation is the advent or deepening of economic crisis. This always has profoundly “gendered” attributes. Women, for example, are likely to be “first-fired” when widespread layoffs hit, and may be increasingly forced into the informal economy or the sex industry. Single mothers and widows may confront enormous added difficulties in securing sustenance for themselves and their children. [19]

The reality, however, is that women rarely figure directly in the organization of genocide, and somewhat less rarely in its perpetration. Men’s role as the dominant planners of genocide, and that of the willing and unwilling male executioners who are its foot soldiers, should make us particularly attuned to the gendered effects of economic crisis on males, especially younger males. They are likely to experience unemployment and poverty with a particular existential piquancy. Employment and (in predominantly agricultural societies) access to land may be essential to their self-definition as males, and to their prospects for marriage and offspring. Economic crisis undermines employment opportunities and divests many male “heads of households” of their property. They may grow, as a result, more receptive to genocidal appeals and to conscription into the ranks of the génocidaires. Those same genocidal appeals and conscription calls frequently play upon the economic and existential insecurities of younger males. Such seems to have been the case in the early years of Nazi rule in Germany. It was certainly true in the pre-genocide period in Rwanda. There, the economic crisis that descended in the 1990s, though it had a devastating impact on all underprivileged sectors of Rwandan society, constituted a special crisis for younger males: “Without land or employment, young men cannot advance in life, they cannot marry or achieve the social status of their parents.” [20] According to Elenor Richter-Lyonette, landlessness and poverty made younger males especially “vulnerable to taking compensatory action. … The hope for a redistribution of wealth in one’s favour was a distinct incentive for the commitment of acts of genocide, particularly with the landless, unemployed youth …” [21]

This gender analysis would seem to hold considerable relevance for the policymaking of international organizations and financial institutions, such as the United Nations and multilateral lending agencies. These play a vital role in managing economic crisis in the Third World. Unfortunately, too often that role has been a destructive one. In particular, the “austerity programmes” imposed on volatile and debt-ridden economies throw hundreds of thousands out of work, and undermine the land-base for subsistence agriculture in favour of cash crops (and migrant rather than landed labour). The contribution of such programmes to genocidal outbreaks should not be underestimated, and their special impact upon younger males’ life prospects and self-image should be integrated into any evaluations of their anticipated or actual impact. “Austerity” initiatives that merely fuel masculine crises (and greatly increase children’s and women’s material suffering as well) should have no place in processes of “reform,” “democratization,” and “peacebuilding.” Nation-states in the industrialized world have an additional responsibility in this area:

While espousing the virtues of free trade, the United States, Japan, members of the European Union and other rich countries continue to employ various means – including high tariffs, export subsidies and hygiene restrictions – to shelter their own industries, effectively preventing developing countries from gaining [a] greater share in the markets in which they can compete most effectively. The rich do this largely because of the political clout of certain domestic industries and unions that worry about losing jobs. … Although global trade grew 12 percent last year – the fastest pace in more than three decades – the export share of poor countries has continued to slide, contributing to deteriorating living standards for hundreds of millions of people in Africa, Asia and Latin America. … Last year, the 25 wealthiest nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development spent more than $360 billion [U.S.] on agricultural subsidies – a sum equivalent to the gross national product for all of sub-Saharan Africa. The EU alone spent close to $300 billion last year on export subsidies that reward its farmers for creating surpluses which are then dumped in many Third World markets – at prices below production cost. This practice often destroys an important pillar of the farming community in poor nations and undermines their food security because local growers can’t compete. [22]

By sapping the wealth and available resources of the most fragile economies on earth, the industrialized world thus bolsters the near-perpetual atmosphere of economic crises in these countries. Riots and unrest, and sometimes the outbreak of genocidal killing, are the far-from-indirect results. Promotion of a greater degree of economic justice, therefore, can be seen as one of the most effective forms of humanitarian intervention and genocide prevention that the wealthy nations of the West can engage in. [23]

The Onset/Outbreak Phase

In “Gendercide and Genocide,” I suggested that “a gendered understanding of the dynamics of genocide throws important new light on key cases of mass killing throughout modern history.” [24] Specifically, the initial/preliminary targeting of battle-age males for concentration and extermination is so regular a feature of twentieth-century genocides that it is almost ubiquitous. It is worth revisiting the evidence for this proposition in the case of the three twentieth-century genocides that, for Alain Destexhe, [25] constitute the century’s only “true” cases of genocide: the assaults on the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire; Jews in Germany and the Nazi-occupied territories; and Tutsis in Rwanda. I rely here on sources not cited in my “Gendercide and Genocide” article.

The genocide of Ottoman Armenians began with the April 24, 1915 detention and subsequent execution of elite Armenian males in Constantinople. This was followed by a campaign of mass killing that targeted Armenian men conscripted into the Ottoman armed forces, as U.S. diplomat Henry Morgenthau noted:

In the early part of 1915, the Armenian soldiers in the Turkish army were reduced to a new status. Up to that time most of them had been combatants, but now they were all stripped of their arms and transformed into workmen. Instead of serving their country as artillerymen and cavalrymen, these former soldiers now discovered that they had been transformed into road labourers and pack animals. Army supplies of all kinds were loaded on their backs, and, stumbling under the burdens and driven by the whips and bayonets of the Turks, they were forced to drag their weary bodies into the mountains of the Caucasus. … If any stragglers succeeded in reaching their destinations, they were not infrequently massacred. In many instances Armenian soldiers were disposed of in even more summary fashion, for it now became almost the general practice to shoot them in cold blood. In almost all cases the procedure was the same. Here and there squads of 50 or 100 men would be taken, bound together in groups of four, and then marched out to a secluded spot a short distance from the village. Suddenly the sound of rifle shots would fill the air, and the Turkish soldiers who had acted as the escort would sullenly return to camp. Those sent to bury the bodies would find them almost invariably stark naked, for, as usual, the Turks had stolen all their clothes. In cases that came to my attention, the murderers had added a refinement to their victims’ sufferings by compelling them to dig their graves before being shot.

When the next stage in the genocidal campaign was decided, built around expulsion of Armenians in “caravans of death,” the focus was again on the outright slaughter of “battle-age” males, as Morgenthau relates:

The systematic extermination of the men continued; such males as the persecutions which I have already described had left were now violently dealt with. Before the caravans were started, it became the regular practice to separate the young men from the families, tie them together in groups of four, lead them to the outskirts, and shoot them. Public hangings without trial – the only offense being that the victims were [male] Armenians – were taking place constantly. The gendarmes showed a particular desire to annihilate the educated and the influential. … At Angora all Armenian men from fifteen to seventy were arrested, bound together in groups of four, and sent on the road in the direction of Caesarea. When they had travelled five or six hours and had reached a secluded valley, a mob of Turkish peasants fell upon them with clubs, hammers, axes, scythes, spades, and saws. Such instruments not only caused more agonizing deaths than guns and pistols, but, as the Turks themselves boasted, they were more economical, since they did not involve the waste of powder and shell. In this way they exterminated the whole male population of Angora, including all its men of wealth and breeding, and their bodies, horribly mutilated, were left in the valley, where they were devoured by wild beasts. … In Trebizond the men were placed in boats and sent out on the Black Sea; gendarmes would follow them in boats, shoot them down, and throw their bodies into the water. When the signal was given for the caravans to move, therefore, they almost invariably consisted of women, children, and old men. Any one who could possibly have protected them from the fate that awaited them had been destroyed. [26]

In the case of the Jewish holocaust, in “Gendercide and Genocide” I cited Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s finding that in the earliest stages of the fullscale genocide, the Einsatzgruppen or mobile killing-squads in occupied Poland and the USSR overwhelmingly targeted Jewish (and other) males. Christopher Browning concurs with this assessment, noting that “it is generally accepted that in the first weeks of Operation Barbarossa the Jewish victims were primarily adult male Jews, and that beginning in late July – at different times in different places at different rates – the killing was gradually expanded to encompass all Jews except indispensable workers …” [27] Browning’s research into the atrocities committed by police battalions attached to the Einsatzgruppen demonstrates how orders from the top were translated into gendercidal policies at the base. On July 11, 1942, the following orders went out to the police battalions: “Confidential! By order of the Higher SS and Police Leader … all male Jews between the ages of 17 and 45 convicted as plunderers are to be shot according to martial law. The shootings are to take place away from cities, villages, and thoroughfares.” Browning notes: “There was, of course, no investigation, trial, and conviction of so-called plunderers to be shot according to martial law. Male Jews who appeared to be between the ages of seventeen and forty-five were simply rounded up” and led away for execution. [28]

In both the Armenian and Jewish cases, the genocidal campaign was subsequently expanded from an attack on community males to an all-encompassing “root-and-branch” assault on the entire community, including children and women. A number of commentators have pointed to a very similar pattern in the Rwandan genocide – a preliminary targeting of adult males and boy children, followed by a more sweeping assault on the entire Tutsi community. Human Rights Watch, for examples, contends that a decision was taken in mid-May – some five weeks after the outbreak of the genocide – to extend the slaughter to these previously protected groups. [29] However, close analysis of the “policy of massacres” [30] implemented beginning on April 6, 1994, suggests a more complex picture: classic gendercidal massacres of males intermingled with “massacres in [i.e., as early as] April 1994 that were both gargantuan in scale and largely indiscriminate in targeting Tutsi men, children, and women,” including one – at the parish of Kurama in Butare prefecture on 20 April – that was almost certainly the worst of the twentieth century, with between 35,000 and 43,000 Tutsis killed in six hours. [31]

There is little doubt, however, that males (men and boys alike) were most at risk in the first and most exterminatory phases of the genocide, and that at no point in the genocide were they granted the exemptions, sometimes apparently official, that women and girls received – albeit often at the cost of sexual servitude to their tormentors: [32]

The primary targets of the hunt [for survivors of the opening massacres] were Tutsi men, particularly what extremist propaganda portrayed as the “ultimate” enemy – rich men, men between their twenties and forties, especially if they were well-educated professionals or students. Most hated of all were well-educated Tutsi men who had studied in Uganda (and to a lesser extent Tanzania and Kenya) who were immediately suspected of being members or supporters of the RPF. Within days, entire communities were without their men; tens of thousands of women were widowed, tens of thousands of children were orphaned. [33]

In the case of children, males were again at special risk: “The extremists were determined to seek out and murder Tutsi boys in particular. They examined very young infants, even new-borns, to see if they were boys or girls. Little boys were executed on the spot. Sometimes they ordered mothers to kill their children. … In what can only have been a horrific unending nightmare, older boys were relentlessly hunted down. Many mothers dressed their little boys as girls in the hope – too often a vain hope – of deceiving the killers. The terrified boys knew exactly what was happening.” [34]

This gendercidal targeting of males, particularly “battle-age” (but non-combatant) men, is more evident still in instances of mass killing that have often been designated as genocides, but around which greater debate has swirled about the accuracy of the designation. [35] Such cases include the Nazi war against the Soviet Union, East Pakistan/Bangladesh in 1971, Iraqi Kurdistan (notably the Anfal Campaign of 1988), Kashmir and Punjab in the 1980s and 1990s, Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, Kosovo in 1998-99, the events in East Timor in mid-1999 (as opposed to the preceding period of Indonesian occupation), Colombia, Afghanistan, and Chechnya (1994-2001). Detailed studies of most of these cases can be found on the Gendercide Watch site.

It is also important to recognize that some contemporary examples of genocidal or proto-genocidal campaigns do not conform to this pattern. The gendercide analysis appears to be of relatively little utility in Algeria, for example, where both the “wholesale” terrorism of the state and the “retail” terrorism of paramilitary and guerrilla forces appears to discriminate hardly at all on gender grounds. Much the same seems to hold true in the extraordinarily destructive civil wars that have consumed West Africa (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo); whatever gendercidal assaults have occurred against “battle-aged” males, or younger boys, has been swamped by gender-indiscriminate killings of civilians as well as deaths from hunger and disease, the total apparently approaching, in the Congo case, a staggering three million people. [36]

It is notable, though, that in no twentieth-century case I am aware of have women and girls been initially, predominantly, or exclusively targeted in genocidal attacks – though this picture becomes significantly more clouded if we consider gendercidal institutions such as maternal mortality, discussed in greater detail later in this article.

Institutions and Intervention

Various proposals for integrating a gender analysis with strategies of genocide prevention and humanitarian intervention have already been touched on. The most important challenge, I contend, is to approach gender inclusively so that the vulnerabilities and victimization experiences of males, especially “battle-age” males, receive the attention they so urgently require. In this main section, I want to examine the specific mechanisms by which this social cohort is standardly marginalized from the discourse of intervention and protection. I focus on three main actors: the United Nations; the leading human-rights NGOs (Amnesty International dn Human Rights Watch); and the mass media. The analysis concentrates on examples drawn from the Balkans wars of the 1990s. Thereafter, I assess the analytically distinct “Challenge of Gendercidal Institutions,” particularly with regard to their destructive impact on ordinary women worldwide.

The United Nations and Srebrenica

The United Nations and other international organizations (like the World Bank) have increasingly moved to integrate a gender perspective in their policies and operations. This reflects the indefatigable efforts of feminist activists and researchers to “mainstream” gender. The “malestream,” however, has tended to get very short shrift in the process. The potentially catastrophic implications of this exclusion were nowhere more evident than in an event that constituted one of the U.N.’s nadirs in the 1990s: the Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslim males by Serb army and paramilitary forces – under the noses of Dutch peacekeepers, and with the passive acquiescence of the international community.

After the Bosnian atrocities of 1992 and further fighting in 1993, Srebrenica was declared one of five “safe areas” under UN protection. Tens of thousands of desperate Muslims sought protection there. In an article written in 1993 and published in January 1994, “Gender and Ethnic Conflict in ex-Yugoslavia,” I pointed to the plight of the civilian population in the city, noting that

Serb forces guarding checkpoints [on the edge of the “safe area”] … have repeatedly made plain their unwillingness to let through any fighting-age males – presumably for fear that male refugees might subsequently join the anti-Serb resistance once safely out of Serb-besieged communities. … Remarkably, the United Nations and other international agencies involved in refugee evacuation have tended to accommodate themselves to the blatantly discriminatory rules laid down by Serb occupiers. At the time of writing (April 1993), for example, the news from Bosnia centres on protracted attempts to secure the evacuation of civilians from the besieged town of Srebrenica. Convoys of trucks have evacuated women, children and old people, but the Serbian requirement that no males with combat potential be carried out overland has been respected – as a glance at photographs of the evacuation convoys makes clear.A certain voluntary element is likely to feature here. The “women and children first” rule seems as operative among besieged populations as it once was for ocean-liner passengers abandoning ship. But it must also be relevant that, as The New York Times reports, “during evacuations from cities and towns surrendered to Serbian fighters in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in neighboring Croatia, Serbian militia-men have summarily executed men of fighting age.” [37]

This implicit plea for intervention, if heeded, might have required the following:

  • a stronger line towards Serbs guarding checkpoints, making it clear that “battle-age” civilian males had the same guaranteed right of refuge under international law as did any other members of the population, and perhaps the use of force to defend convoys against Serb attempts to seize and abuse these prime human targets;
  • arguably, humanitarian emphasis on ensuring that all “battle-age” civilian males, as the most vulnerable members of the community, be given priority in the evacuation process (recognizing that many would choose to stay behind in favour of allowing other family members to leave first); [38] and perhaps
  • the mediation of an agreement between the two sides that “battle-age” males evacuated to safety in Bosnian government-held territory would be considered ineligible for conscription or volunteering for military service, with such arrangements monitored, as far as reasonably possible, by the U.N. and other agencies.

Failure to implement such measures ensured that thousands of Muslim males would remain in Srebrenica as fodder for genocide. The well-known events of July 1995, along with the findings reported in the section on “The Prelude Phase,” suggest that international organizations like the U.N. urgently need to develop programs and strategies that acknowledge younger males as the most vulnerable target group in cases of state-directed killing and repression; and that seek to protect this group specifically, though not to the exclusion of others, when genocidal outbreaks are recorded. Such a framing would constitute nothing short of a paradigm shift, given the narrow definition of “gender” that prevails in the IGO and NGO sphere. But it is required if the gender variable is to be employed in humanitarian emergencies and genocidal outbreaks with maximum effectiveness and analytical insight.

A specific institutional innovation that should be considered is the creation of a male-focused equivalent of the “Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences,” the position currently held by Radhika Coomaraswamy of Sri Lanka. [39] The Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Men could serve as the catalyst for educational and activist efforts aimed at sensitizing both publics and governments to the special vulnerabilities of “battle-age” males in conflict situations and state “crackdowns,” broader patterns of gendered violence against men and boys (rape in prisons, violence against gay males, trafficking in male economic migrants, domestic violence against young boys, male genital mutilation, “blood-feud” and vigilante killings, and so on). He or she would also be the ideal point-person for situations like the emerging pattern of violence against younger males. The task in this case would be to call attention to the specific gendering of violent victimization; to stress that younger ethnic-Albanian males enjoyed the same rights of security of person as other human beings; to mobilize direct interventions aimed at protecting besieged ethnic-Albanian males and/or escorting them to safety; and to lobby representatives of the offending government to cease violent abuses against this population group. The Special Rapporteur could also monitor the situation of younger-male refugees, who are vulnerable to both traffickers and conscriptors. It is worth noting that the Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Women, Ms. Coomaraswamy, intervened vocally and directly in the cases of both Kosovo and East Timor, calling for women’s human rights to be respected. But there was no U.N. figure to express official concern over the detention, torture, and selective or mass execution of “battle-age” males, which constituted the majority of the most severe atrocities inflicted in both these conflicts.

The Human Rights NGOs

In the last decade or so, an impressive literature has arisen in the International Relations field around the growing role of non-governmental organizations in global politics. These organizations play a diversity of roles in terms of providing catalyzing ideas for the formation of international “regimes” around, for example, human rights, women’s issues, and the environment; the mobilization and articulation of public opinion; and vigilance over the actions of national governments and international institutions. The latter institutions have become especially dependent upon the research findings, organizational efforts, and “cutting-edge” activism of the NGOs. Nowhere is this more evident than in the human-rights sphere, where the international “mechanisms rely almost exclusively upon NGO information,” according to Felice Gaer. [40] The agenda-setting power of the human-rights NGOs is therefore considerable. How these NGOs address gendercidal killing and other gender-selective human rights abuses therefore has a direct bearing on international policy-formation in this area. Accordingly, in this section I examine the performance of the two leading human-rights NGOs, Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), in the context of the Kosovo conflict of 1998-99. On balance, Amnesty’s coverage allows us to perceive many of the flaws and blind-spots in “gendering” human-rights reportage, while Human Rights Watch, despite certain weaknesses of its own, points in a much more promising direction. [41]

Human Rights Watch

In general, Human Rights Watch deserves praise for the scope and calibre of its reporting during the Kosovo conflict. The organization issued literally dozens of “human rights flashes” before, during, and after the war. Their team in the field, led by Fred Abrahams, consistently produced the most detailed and gut-wrenching accounts of the major atrocities and acts of gendercide in Kosovo, notably at Velika Krusa, Izbica, Meja, Vucitrn, and Pusto Selo. [42]

Moreover, Human Rights Watch at several points recognized the specific vulnerability of males in particular locations throughout Kosovo, and expressed concern for their plight. A week or so into the NATO bombing campaign, for example, the organization released its Human Rights Flash #13, entitled “Serb Forces Separating Men from Women and Children in Malishevo.” The analysis was also exceedingly nuanced:

Interviews with refugees arriving in Albania today [April 1] established that Yugoslav forces were systematically separating adult males from women, children, and elderly men in the Malishevo area of Kosovo … According to the refugees, thousands of mostly unarmed ethnic Albanian men in the area have fled into the mountains, fearing arrest and possible summary execution. … According to refugees from the village of Ostrazuk, men were systematically separated from their families and taken away to an unknown location, after which the women and children were ordered to leave the village. The refugees told Human Rights Watch that the forces separating out the men were wearing green uniforms of the Yugoslav army (VJ), with a smaller number of forces in blue uniforms worn by the Serbian police (MUP). The ethnic Albanian men were questioned about the whereabouts of the Kosovo Liberation Army and of hidden guns before being taken away. Refugees from other villages in the Malishevo area told Human Rights Watch that thousands of unarmed men had fled into the mountains in advance of the Serb offensive, fearing for their lives. The fate of these men is unknown. In a number of earlier incidents in the Kosovo conflict, and in the Bosnian conflict, the Yugoslav army and Serb police were responsible for the summary execution of unarmed, fighting-aged men (emphasis added here and throughout this section).

Here a broader framing of the atrocities is briefly established, with a reference not only to the immediate Kosovo context, but to gender-selective atrocities and acts of gendercide in Bosnia as well – an important, and rare, hint of historical context. A bulletin several days later on “Violent Ethnic Cleansing in Dakovica” reiterated the point, though slightly more narrowly:

Many of the Dakovica refugees arrived without men aged between twenty and fifty. According to the refugees, many of the men had fled in the previous days to the mountains out of fear of police retaliation. … Human Rights Watch is particularly worried about areas such as Dakovica where the men have been left behind. In many of the forced depopulations documented by Human Rights Watch since the NATO bombing began, the men exited Kosovo together with their families. In some areas – namely Dakovica and Malisevo – the men have either been forcibly separated or have autonomously taken to the hills to avoid capture. In some past instances, Serbian and Yugoslav forces have executed ethnic Albanian men of fighting age (for example in the village of Golubovac on September 26). … [43]

The organization’s coverage of incarcerated ethnic-Albanian men was also detailed and insightful. The approximately 600 male prisoners released from Smrekovnica prison on May 22, 1999 were carefully debriefed – and concern expressed urgently for the fate of those who remained. [44] Consider, for example, the following bulletin, entitled “Concern About Fate of Detained Kosovar Albanian Men,” which specifically addressed the detention of male inmates at Smrekovnica prison (albeit late in the game, after two months of war):

While the majority of the detainees were released [n.b. to be replaced by new ones], the witnesses claim that a number of men from the Kosovska Mitrovica area – men who were arrested in the days immediately prior to the witnesses’ release – are still being held at the Smrekonica [Smrekovnica] prison. Human Rights Watch is extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of those held in Smrekonica and other prisons, and calls upon the Serbian authorities to release as soon as possible those men against whom there is no evidence of KLA membership. Moreover, the Serbian authorities should guarantee the physical integrity of the detainees and provide them with basic items such as food, water, mattresses, and blankets. [45]

Some criticisms and concerns can nevertheless be raised about HRW’s performance during the Kosovo war. In the first place, as noted, the organization never felt it worthwhile to issue a bulletin on the general pattern of summary executions and detentions of males. The passages quoted tended to be included in broader analyses of the conflict – although when allegations of the rape of women began to circulate in substantial numbers, HRW was quick to issue not just a bulletin (“Rape of Ethnic Albanian Women in Kosovo Town of Dragacin”) [46] but a detailed “backgrounder” on the subject, entitled “Sexual Violence As International Crime.” This was one of the lengthiest reports issued by Human Rights Watch during the war. It examined “sexual violence as war crime,” “as crimes against humanity,” “as torture,” and “as genocide”; considered the question of “universal jurisdiction for international crimes of sexual violence”; and described in detail the past proceedings of criminal tribunals that heard evidence on the subject from Bosnia and Rwanda.

By contrast, the pattern of gender-selective killing of “battle-age” men in Kosovo and the wider Balkans wars was noted, but usually late and in passing. The gendercide was never deemed relevant subject material for “backgrounder” treatment, although it was by any objective measure far greater and more systematic an atrocity than the rape of women, in Kosovo and in the Balkans wars as a whole. The organization also limited its concerns for detained males to those at a single facility, or at a particular location and point in the war. Again, the wider pattern of gender-selective detention, at most times and in most places across Kosovo, was never made the subject of a specific bulletin. The most “gendered” treatment of detainees, the coverage of those released from Smrekovnica and those kidnapped to Serbia, occurred so late in the war as to be largely irrelevant.

There is, nonetheless, a solid foundation in HRW’s coverage for an inclusive conceptualizing of gender-selective victimization and vulnerability. HRW’s dedicated staff would be well-advised to build on that foundation, and to assist in the further exploration of this “other -cide” of gender-selective atrocity.

Amnesty International

By comparison, Amnesty International’s performance during the Kosovo conflict was nothing short of parlous. At no point before or during the 1999 war did Amnesty devote meaningful attention to the pattern of gender-selective mass execution, abuse, and detention of “battle-age” males – though these clearly accounted for the war’s central, most systematic, and most severe atrocities.

The organization’s obfuscation of this theme was well-established by the time fullscale war broke out in Kosovo in March 1999. The early part of 1998 witnessed a Serb offensive in which gender-selective mass executions, detentions, and “disappearances” of non-combatant males also featured as a dominant strategy. The same strategy was an equally glaring feature of the renewed offensive in Summer 1998, as with the massacre at the village of Racak in January 1999. But Amnesty’s reports from the region emphasized a different “gendering” of the human-rights situation. “Human Rights Violations Against Women in Kosovo Province” were deemed worthy of a full report as early as August 1998. It began as follows:

In areas of civil turmoil or armed conflict, women are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations. They are often subjected to brutal treatment simply because they live in a particular location or belong to a particular group. This report aims to illustrate the human rights situation of women, primarily ethnic Albanian women, in Kosovo … by highlighting a number of representative cases. The report does not claim to depict the full range and severity of human rights violations against women which have taken place and which, as armed conflict persists, continue to occur daily. Ethnic Albanian women are the victims of human rights abuse now, but since the early 1980s there have been cases in which ethnic Albanian women have shared the fate of many of their menfolk and like them have been arbitrarily detailed, ill-treated and convicted in unfair trials. With the outbreak of armed conflict, they now also face mass forced displacement and the risk of deliberate and arbitrary killings. [47]

The passage begged a rather important question: how could women be “particularly vulnerable,” when the abuses referred to were “cases” in which they had simply “shared the fate of many of their menfolk”? (Many more of their menfolk, is the unspoken implication.) The following month, Amnesty did deign to report on “The Hidden Victims of Conflict” in Kosovo. The reference was not, however, to the victims hidden by their own coverage. The report concerned “Disappeared and Missing Persons,” and the gender variable was invisible in the framing. The introduction deployed an impressive range of “displacement” strategies to marginalize gender from the equation:

Ethnic Albanians unseen since entering police stations or being led away by Serbian police … Serbs and Albanians taken from vehicles stopped by the armed ethnic Albanian opposition, hauled off trains, or unseen since armed Albanians came to their homes … People unaccounted for in the aftermath of armed police operations or military engagements, who may be among the hastily and anonymously buried … In Kosovo province the “disappeared” and “missing” come from all ethnic groups. The police are believed to be responsible for the “disappearance” of ethnic Albanians. Many of those who have “disappeared” were reported to have been arrested and led away by police, either captured or detained … The KLA has been accused of the abduction and presumed unlawful killing or detention of ethnic Albanians whom it alleges are “collaborators” with the Serbian authorities … Other victims include members of the Serbian, Montenegrin, Romani and other ethnic groups. … It is still to early to ascertain accurate statistics for “missing” or “disappeared” ethnic Albanians

When we look at the body of the report, we find a reference to “a disturbing series of reported ‘disappearances’ as well as many cases of ‘missing’ persons and others who are unaccounted for. It is feared that some – perhaps all – of these people are no longer alive.” But the detailed description of the atrocities tells a discernibly different, though parallel, tale:

Ahmet Berisha (40), Hajriz Hajdini (48), Muhamet Hajdini, (45), Sahit Qorri (60), Sefer Qorri (55), Ferat Hoti (39), Rama Asllani (60) and Blerin Shishani (15) were inhabitants of Novi Poklek (Poklek i Ri), a settlement which was built in recent years on the edge of Glogovac close to a factory called Feronikl. On 31 May a large operation was mounted by police in and around the settlement. … After firing at the houses from a distance, patrols of police reportedly started to go from house to house in the settlement, ordering the inhabitants out of the buildings. Many of them were reportedly collected in a house in the settlement where men were separated from women and children. The women and children were directed to leave. Reports of the events include allegations that nine or more men were killed. Despite the lack of confirmed information, the whereabouts of the eight men named above who were reportedly detained by the police remains unknown. Amnesty International believes that these eight men have “disappeared,” and may have been the victims of extrajudicial executions. The bodies of two other men, Ardian Deliu (18) and Fidai Shishani (17), were reportedly found at the scene, but it has not yet been possible to establish the circumstances of their death. Several different rumours about the fate of the “disappeared” men have circulated, including claims that bodies or body parts have been seen in the village; that the police were seen apparently transporting prisoners in the direction of the Feronikl factory where they are being held, or that they have been killed and buried in a mass grave. …

All of this was an obvious prelude to the gendercidal strategies followed in the Serb military attack; but throughout the report, and throughout the Kosovo war, Amnesty remained unable to connect the dots. There was no report entitled “Human Rights Violations Against Men [or ‘Battle-Age’ Men] in Kosovo Province.”

Amnesty’s report on the notorious Racak massacre of January 1999 was similarly obtuse. “The truth behind the killings of 45 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo must be found,” it declared. “The victims’ bodies – including three women, a 12-year-old [male] child and several elderly men – were found on 16 January …” Thus, 42 out of 45 male victims, the vast majority of them “battle-age.” The organization announced sagely that “This brutal crime is chillingly similar to the first reports of large-scale killings of ethnic Albanian civilians, less than one year ago.” How, precisely? Again, the skein of gender was all but impossible to tease out in Amnesty’s account: “Many of the victims had reportedly been shot through the head at close range and some showed signs of mutilation. The victims appeared to be local villagers … possibly with some members of the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) among them. As background on the atrocity, Amnesty offered this:

Over 2,000 people died after armed conflict erupted in Kosovo province in February 1998. Many of them were extra-judicially executed or deliberately and arbitrarily killed. Some 700 people, the majority ethnic Albanians but also including over a hundred Serbs, remain unaccounted for. At least 1,000 ethnic Albanians were detained by the Serbian authorities in 1998. Amnesty International has evidence that many of them were tortured or ill-treated in custody. As many as five [?] may have died in 1998 as a result of injuries sustained during brutal interrogations. Many of the detainees are currently being tried even though there is no solid evidence to support the charges against them.

Amnesty did, in this release, have the good grace – uniquely in these bulletins – to fleetingly gender the detainees rounded up at the time of the Racak massacre, and to express its standard concern for their fate: “As villagers fled their homes, some men were reportedly arrested by Serbian police and taken to the Stimlje police station. Amnesty International is extremely concerned that those arrested may be tortured and ill-treated in police custody and is urging the authorities to protect them.” [48] It would be months – not until after the Kosovo war had ended – before an Amnesty press release would again address the fate of detained men in Kosovo. Even such fleeting gestures as the one just cited were utterly absent from the organization’s public record throughout the war.

In Amnesty’s wartime press releases – the bulletins that alerted the mass media and policy circles to the human rights issues it considered most pressing – I have found only three mentions of the pattern and policy of detaining and executing “battle-age” Kosovar males. None of the bulletins focused on the subject. In fact, the first bulletin – issued on April 1 – left the subject to the final paragraph of an eleven-paragraph release: “Particularly disturbing are a series of reports describing how men of military age were separated from the women, children and elderly men. It has not proved possible to confirm these reports, but the proportion of men among the refugees crossing the borders out of Kosovo is small.” [49] If the reports were indeed “particularly disturbing,” why were they not touched on until the last paragraph of the bulletin? And why was no bulletin or background piece issued on the subject? Contrast this with the Human Rights Watch bulletin, “Serb Forces Separating Men from Women and Children in Malishevo,” issued on the same day.

A week later, Amnesty International returned to the reports of gender-selective atrocities, this time in a bulletin about refugees, whose plight was predictably uppermost. “Many of those attempting to leave Kosovo – mainly women, children and elderly people – had been waiting to cross for up to five days, and are weak from lack of food and exhaustion.” Five paragraphs later, Amnesty reported:

Refugees in Northern Albania have eye-witness tales of systematic extra-judicial executions carried out by security forces and paramilitary groups while forcing people out of their homes in towns and villages. Although the accuracy of such reports is difficult to confirm due to the lack of access for foreign journalists and other international observers, many of them appear credible. A disproportionate number of those who have succeeded in fleeing the country are women, children and elderly men. Many of those arriving continue to testify that during the expulsion or their flight they were stopped by members of the Serbian police, armed forces or paramilitaries, who separated the men from the women and children. The men were either detained while the women and children were ordered to continue their journey, or rounded up and taken away. Other refugees have reported being detained and used as human shields by the security forces in clashes with the KLA.

So ended the main part of the bulletin, and the discussion of the subject. There was no expression of concern for those detained; no declaration that Amnesty held the Yugoslav authorities responsible for their safe return; no follow-up on what their fate might have been; no bulletin issued specifically on their behalf. Rather, as noted, the bulletin focused on the plight of the “womenandchildren” refugees, and all normative injunctions were devoted to their situation and urgent requirements: “These people urgently need medical attention and have nothing to go back to. … No refugee should be sent to a third country unless it is voluntary … The places so far offered [to refugees] are only a fraction of the total required …” [50] A concluding section provided “background” on the abuses discussed in the bulletin. Again, all concerned the refugee flow, and the strain it had imposed on neighbouring countries.

The closest Amnesty came to acknowledging the gendercide in Kosovo came the following day, with a bulletin on “Killings in the Kacanik Area.” The killings, to be specific, were “of at least four men and the ‘disappearance’ of at least 22 men … who hid in the woods during the [Serb] offensive [and] remain unaccounted for. Amnesty International is seriously concerned about their fate, and is seeking further information about them.” [51] There was no indication that such killings were part of a wider pattern. On May 12, 1999, a full month-and-a-half into the gendercide, Amnesty issued a report, “Killings and ‘disappearance’ in Ade village,” describing “the killings of four [!] men, and the ‘disappearance’ of another [!] at the hands of Serbian security forces.” [52]

On May 22, 1999, as noted earlier, hundreds of Kosovar men were released from Smrekovnica prison near Mitrovica, and made their way in handcuffs to refuge in Albania. Brendan Paddy, an Amnesty representative, expressed relief at seeing a sizeable number of “battle-age” males emerging from Kosovo. “We have been extremely concerned about reports of people being removed from convoys, particularly youngish men detained at Smrekovnica,” he told The Washington Post. “We were very relieved to see a significant number of them cross the border. Sometimes it’s nice to be wrong.” [53] While Paddy’s relief was understandable, his statements raised serious questions. Where was the evidence of Amnesty’s “extreme concern” – for example, a single bulletin on the subject of detained males at Smrekovnica and elsewhere? And rather than the pat “nice-to-be-wrong” formulation, where was Paddy’s – and Amnesty’s – concern for the hundreds of men that the refugees described as still under detention – most for periods rather longer than the “weak,” “emaciated,” “very traumatized” prisoners freed in May? (We now know that this same weekend witnessed the mass slaughter of about 100 male inmates at Istok prison, following a NATO bombing raid on the facility.)

Late in the war, Amnesty finally got around to issuing a bulletin on the massacre of well over 100 Kosovar men at Izbica – a full week after Human Rights Watch had issued its superior, stomach-churning report on the killings. Amnesty’s bulletin was titled: “Civilians rounded up and murdered by Serbian forces.” “What is clear from these testimonies is that our fears that civilians of the Drenica region were murdered by Serbian security forces between 25 and 28 March are not unfounded,” though the organization had released no bulletin expressing its “fears,” let alone one focusing on the gender-selective character of the “civilian” extermination at Izbica. This was the case even though the release began, with impressive obliviousness, by presenting one of the more succinct survivor’s account of this act of gendercide:

The women were ordered to depart with the elderly and children … The men were lined up in two rows, and told to turn their backs. The soldiers then opened fire on the group with automatic weapons. Bodies fell on top of me and I was able to feign death until the soldiers left. [54]

The press release concluded by describing mass graves in the vicinity, filled with male corpses, as video footage released at the time clearly showed. Amnesty noted the footage of “the burial of the victims,” suggesting that the site contained “151 bodies,” some of whom “were KLA combatants.” The organization stated its belief nonetheless that “some of these bodies [were] of civilians who were killed by Serbian security forces or indiscriminately killed during shelling … Amnesty International cannot confirm the manner in which these people died.” The contrast with the much more detailed, powerful, and prompt reporting of Izbica by Human Rights Watch again did no credit to Amnesty.

One wonders what difference a concerted bombardment of e-mail messages from Amnesty’s global network of supporters might have made to the progress of the gendercide? Might it have lent a little weight to the hardline versus softline elements of the Yugoslav armed forces? How might a concerted campaign of bulletins expressing concern for the fate of the missing men have influenced the wider public discussion and policy agenda? We will, unfortunately, never know. But some sense of the contribution Amnesty could have made to the protection of ethnic-Albanian men’s human rights in Kosovo was suggested by its belated attention to the fate of remaining detainees in Serb hands. On June 23 – after an estimated 2,000 prisoners were shipped off to Serbia by retreating Yugoslav forces – Amnesty issued a bulletin on the subject, and the international wire services lit up like a Christmas tree. [55]

Why did the detainees suddenly become noteworthy only after the war was over and they were transported to Serbia? Many had been languishing in grossly-overcrowded conditions, exposed to regular beatings and torture and perhaps selective executions, for weeks or even months. And why, even now, could Amnesty only acknowledge that (genderless) “People have been detained for expressing dissenting views, for refusing military service on conscientious grounds or simply because of their ethnic origin”? [56] The majority of male detainees had been imprisoned not for refusing military service but for being deemed capable of it. They were targeted first on grounds of ethnicity – which Amnesty could not miss; and secondly, according to variables of gender and age – to which Amnesty remained oblivious, in its public pronouncements at least.

Could some of this inattention perhaps be excused by the argument that Amnesty’s task is not, fundamentally, to address mass killings, but the detention of prisoners, primarily those deemed “political”? If the argument is to be sustained, it must be explained why Amnesty felt justified in pronouncing on a whole range of “non-traditional” issues during the war. It addressed itself to the U.N. Security Council and denounced the “chronic neglect of consistent warnings by human rights organisations” and “the absence of redress for all Kosovo’s people” as underlying the crisis and war in the province. [57] It accused Macedonia of “playing politics with refugees” through “frequent closures of the border.” This, it declared in solidarity with the UNHCR (whose purview this might ordinarily have been), constituted “an unacceptable intrusion of politics in the humanitarian response to refugees in crisis.” [58] And, as we have seen, Amnesty was amply aware of Kosovar women’s (much lesser) vulnerability to “deliberate and arbitrary killings.”

These critical comments should be seen as motivated by a strong appreciation for the stellar work Amnesty International has done over the decades, and the space it has carved for itself in the public debate and the international policy arena. But the inability or unwillingness to grasp the essence of the gendercide, and to take Amnesty’s time-honoured steps to intervene (urgent actions, special reports and bulletins, etc.) was nothing less than an abdication of responsibility on the organization’s part. Both the human rights NGOs discussed here could benefit by a broadening of their frameworks and the development of specific working groups and initiatives to address human-rights abuses against males, particularly “battle-age” males. But in Amnesty’s case, the need for an overhaul of performance and policy appears far-reaching.

The Challenge of Gendercidal Institutions

Humanitarian intervention, especially in the age of media spectacle, is concentrated upon discrete events. Emergency situations arise and are dealt with or not. One way or another, the crisis eventually passes, and the peacekeepers and aid agencies pick up and move on, perhaps leaving behind a skeletal presence of monitors. This “firefighting” approach is entirely unable to engage with more structurally-entrenched crises, especially those spawned by institutions – including gendercidal ones.

Gendercidal institutions are most destructive in their impact upon females. The phenomenon of female infanticide is likely responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths a year, mostly in China and India. It has at least attracted significant attention internationally. [59] Much less well-known is the crisis of maternal mortality. In a 1996 report, UNICEF called the issue “in scale and severity the most neglected tragedy of our times,” citing a staggering 585,000 women who die annually from complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth. [60]

In addressing such institutionalized crises, perhaps what is needed is a new concept of humane intervention – one that will promote the longterm commitment of resources and sustained campaigns, rather than the kind of limited disaster-relief efforts that usually pass for “humanitarian intervention.” If the problems are structural, the solutions will have to be as well. They must involve paradigmatic rethinkings of obligations and priorities. For example, to confront maternal mortality globally with the success that a poor Third World country, Cuba, has attained domestically would involve training some 850,000 health workers, and assigning the necessary drugs and equipment. The total cost would be about US $200 million, according to UNICEF and World Health Organization reports. This is the price of half a dozen jet fighters.

A fundamental rethinking of gendercidal institutions that are accepted and validated by the liberal-democratic countries of the industrialized West is also urgently required – perhaps especially in the sphere of gendercidal institutions that target males predominantly or almost exclusively. Three examples can be cited here: the death penalty, military conscription/impressment, and corvée (forced) labour. All three of these have received case-study treatment on the Gendercide Watch site, but it is worth dwelling for a moment on corvée. Readers may be as astonished as I was to learn that forced labour, an institution that has killed millions if not tens of millions of people, overwhelmingly younger males, in its history, is not today banned under international labour legislation. Rather, its imposition is legitimized for one group and one group only: able-bodied adult males. Article 11 of the International Labour Organization’s Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour – passed in 1930, and still in effect today – states that “Only adult able-bodied males who are of an apparent age of not less than 18 and not more than 45 years may be called upon for forced or compulsory labour,” so long as “they are physically fit for the work required and for the conditions under which it is to be carried out” and “the number of adult able-bodied men indispensable for family and social life” is allowed to remain in communities targeted for forced labour. (Specifically, the Convention states that “the proportion of the resident adult able-bodied males who may be taken at any one time for forced or compulsory labour … shall in no case exceed 25 per cent.”) [61]

In addition, in contrast to the “absolute prohibition” on female forced labour, male-dominated military conscription is exempted from forced-labour regulations, so long as the labour is used for military purposes. In drafting the Convention, the ILO reports, “there was general agreement that compulsory military service as such should remain beyond the purview of the Convention.” Prison labour, again overwhelmingly a male phenomenon, is also exempted. [62] Clearly, any international campaign against gender discrimination in forced-labour legislation – such as the one that Gendercide Watch is now mounting [63] – must inevitably spill over into a reevaluation of military conscription and the economics of incarceration. Confronting such powerful and deeply-ingrained institutions head-on can be a dispiriting task, since the challenges seem so immense and the readiness to engage in radical rethinking so limited. Much the same challenges, however, had to be faced in eliminating the closely-related scourge of slavery in the 19th century. The fact that efforts at amelioration and elimination proved possible, indeed were successful in a remarkably short period, offers grounds for hope.


This article has argued for the wide-ranging inclusion of a gender framework into analyses of international politics, genocide, and humanitarian intervention. It has suggested that, while the study of women and girls and their special vulnerabilities in emergency situations is well advanced, virtually no attention has been paid to the specific vulnerabilities and victimization experiences of men and boys. Until this range of experiences is integrated into an inclusive gender framework, only limited investigations of the multifaceted “gendering” of these phenomena will be possible, and distorted policymaking will tend to result. Politico-military gendercide against males, featuring sex-selective massacres and other atrocities, is an important and largely unrecognized subject for scholarly study and political activism. Key institutions of intergovernmental and nongovernmental organization, along with the mass media, have been critiqued for marginalizing and displacing the male victim in their discourse. At the same time, the role of gendercidal institutions such as maternal mortality and corvée labour has been reduced to a background feature in the human-rights equation, which remains concentrated on emergencies narrowly bounded in time and space. A new concept of “humane” intervention would assist in confronting such phenomena, which are deeply entrenched in social structure and historical practice.


[1] The author is professor of international studies at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) in Mexico City. His article “Gendercide and Genocide” appeared in Journal of Genocide Research, 2: 2 (2000), and he is editing a special issue of the JGR on the subject of gender and genocide for publication in Spring 2002. He can be contacted at <>. This article was first presented as a paper to the Fourth International Bi-Annual Conference of the Association of Genocide Scholars, Minneapolis, MN, June 10-12, 2001. I am grateful to R. Charli Carpenter for her many pertinent comments on the work, and her own contribution to the study of gender and genocide.

[2] Jones, “Gendercide and Genocide,” p. 197.

[3] Ronit Lentin, ed., Gender & Catastrophe (London: Zed Books, 1997).

[4] Ronit Lentin, “Introduction: (En)gendering Genocides,” in Lentin, ed., Gender & Catastrophe, pp. 1, 6.

[5] See, e.g., Alexandra Stiglmayer, Mass Rape: The War Against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina (University of Nebraska Press, 1994); Beverly Allen, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia (University of Minnesota Press, 1996); Sara Sharratt and Ellyn Kaschak, eds., Assault on the Soul: Women in the Former Yugoslavia (Haworth Press, 1999); Vesna Nikolic-Ristanovic, ed., Women, Violence and War: Wartime Victimization of Refugees in the Balkans (Central European University Press, 2000); and Julie A. Mertus, War’s Offensive on Women: The Humanitarian Challenge in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan (Kumarian Press, 2000).

[6] R. Charli Carpenter, “Beyond Gendercide,” paper presented to Fourth International Bi-Annual Conference of the Association of Genocide Scholars, Minneapolis, MN, June 10-12, 2001. The paper is now scheduled for publication in the International Journal of Human Rights (forthcoming 2002).

[7] I defend my usage of “gendercide” at greater length in my article “Problems of Gendercide,” forthcoming in Journal of Genocide Research, 4: 1 (Spring 2002).

[8] Warren defined gendercide as “the deliberate extermination of persons of a particular sex (or gender)” (emphasis added). See Warren, Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection (Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld, 1985), p. 22; and the discussion in Jones, “Gendercide and Genocide,” p. 186.

[9] See the overview of genocide “early warning systems” in Charny, ed., The Encyclopedia of Genocide, pp. 261-67; and the work of the organizations Genocide Watch <> and Prevent Genocide International <>.

[10] Eugen Kogon, The Theory and Practice of Hell (Berkley paperback edition, 1980), pp. 176-79.

[11] Joan Ringelheim, “Genocide and Gender: A Split Memory,” in Lentin, ed., Gender & Catastrophe, pp. 21, 23.

[12] African Rights, Rwanda: Death, Despair and Defiance, Revised Edition (London: African Rights, 1995), p. 385.

[13] African Rights, Death, Despair and Defiance, p. 587.

[14] Julie A. Mertus, Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started A War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 279, 46.

[15] Deborah Willis, Malevolent Nurture: Witch-Hunting and Maternal Power in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995), pp. 244-45.

[16] Koonz quoted in Miryam Z. Wahrman, “Gendering the Holocaust: Women as Victims and Perpetrators,”, 2000 <>.

[17] Linda R. Melvern, A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide (London: Zed Books, 2000), p. 73 (n. 9).

[18] Mertus, Kosovo, p. 8.

[19] On the plight of widows, see Margaret Owen, A World of Widows (London: Zed Books, 1996).

[20] African Rights, Death, Despair and Defiance, p. 20.

[21] Elenor Richter-Lyonette, “Women after the Genocide in Rwanda,” in Richter-Lyonette, ed., In the Aftermath of Rape: Women’s Rights, War Crimes, and Genocide (Givrins: The Coordination of Women’s Advocacy, 1997), p. 106.

[22] William Drozdiak, “Poor Nations May Not Buy Trade Talks,” The Washington Post, May 15, 2001.

[23] A step in the right direction was the February 2001 decision by the European Union “to open its markets to all products except weapons from the world’s 48 poorest countries. Although the EU initiative will delay duty-free access for such sensitive items as bananas, rice and sugar, the move was welcomed as a step toward improving the plight of the most indigent Third World nations by the world’s biggest and most powerful commercial bloc.” Drozdiak, “Poor Nations.”

[24] Jones, “Gendercide and Genocide,” p. 201.

[25] Alain Destexhe, Rwanda and Genocide in the Twentieth Century (New York: New York University Press, 1996).

[26] Excerpts from Henry Morgenthau, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, ch. 24: “The Murder of a Nation,” <>.

[27] Christopher R. Browning, Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 30.

[28] Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: HarperPerennial, 1998), pp. 13-14.

[29] Human Rights Watch, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999), p. 296.

[30] This phrase is drawn from the (indispensable) African Rights report, Rwanda: Death, Despair and Defiance, chapter 7.

[31] Jones, “Gender and Genocide in Rwanda.”

[32] These themes are analyzed and buttressed in far greater detail in Jones, “Gender and Genocide in Rwanda.”

[33] African Rights, Death, Despair and Defiance, pp. 597-98.

[34] African Rights, Death, Despair and Defiance, p. 815.

[35] For what it is worth, I would consider all the cases cited to qualify as genocides on a greater or lesser scale.

[36] Karl Vickers, “Toll of Congo War is Called Apocalyptic,” International Herald Tribune, May 2, 2001.

[37] Adam Jones, “Gender and Ethnic Conflict in ex-Yugoslavia,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 17: 1 (January 1994), p. 124.

[38] In many cases this would involve confrontation with the local authorities, e.g., those in the Bosnian government who sought to prevent “battle-age” men from fleeing as refugees and conscript them into military service.

[39] See the collection of documents on this office at <>.

[40] Felice Gaer, “Reality Check: Human Rights NGOs Confront Governments at the UN,” ch. 2 in Thomas Go. Weiss and Leon Gordenker, NGOs, the UN, and Global Governance (Boulder and London: Westview Press, 1996), p. 55.

[41] For more on gender and the human-rights NGOs, focusing on Amnesty International, see David Buchanan, “Gendercide and Human Rights,” forthcoming in Journal of Genocide Research (4: 1, Spring 2002).

[42] “Multiple Eyewitnesses Confirm Killings Around Velika Krusa, Kosovo,” Kosovo Human Rights Flash #4, April 2, 1999; “Massacre in Meja,” Kosovo Human Rights Flash #34, April 30, 1999; “Witness to Izbice Killings Speaks,” Kosovo Human Rights Flash #39, May 19, 1999; “Separation of Men and Mass Killing Near Vucitrn,” Kosovo Human Rights Flash #40, May 20, 1999; “Bodies Discovered at Massacre Site in Meja, Kosovo,” Kosovo Human Rights Flash #46, June 18, 1999; “Large-Scale Massacre in Pusto Selo (Postoselo),” Kosovo Human Rights Flash #51, July 2, 1999.

[43] Human Rights Watch, “Violent Ethnic Cleansing in Dakovica,” Kosovo Human Rights Flash #16, April 3, 1999. Though it also indulged in a fairly wide range of displacement strategies, Human Rights Watch showed a regular willingness to gender the victims of mass killing in the headlines. The bulletin on the May 2-3 slaughter in a field outside Vucitrn (Human Rights Flash #40) was entitled: “Separation of Men and Mass Killing Near Vucitrn.” Its account of the “Massacre in Meja” on April 27 included the subheading: “At Least One Hundred Men Believed Executed.” This was again atypical of commentary at the time, though not completely unheard-of.

[44] “Ex-Detainees Recount Ill-Treatment in Smrekonica Prison,” Kosovo Human Rights Flash #41, May 26, 1999.

[45] Human Rights Watch, “Ex-Detainees Recount Ill-Treatment in Smrekonica Prison.”

[46] Human Rights Watch, Kosovo Human Rights Flash #31, April 28, 1999.

[47] Amnesty International, “Human Rights Violations against Women in Kosovo Province,” report, August 1998. Emphasis added.

[48] “The Truth Behind the Killings of 45 Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo Must Be Found,” Amnesty International News Release EUR 70/05/99, January 18, 1999. Emphasis added throughout.

[49] Amnesty International, bulletin EUR 70/23/999, April 1, 1999.

[50] “Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – Kosovo: The Plight of Refugees Must Not Be Ignored,” Amnesty International bulletin, April 8, 1999. Emphasis added.

[51] Amnesty International, “Killings in the Kacanik area,” EUR 70/29/99, April 9, 1999.

[52] The news release noted, in passing, that “the police separated the men from the women.”

[53] John Ward Anderson, “In Singular Move, Serbs Free 1,000 Ethnic Albanian Men in Kosovo,” International Herald Tribune, May 24, 1999 (from The Washington Post).

[54] “Kosovo: Civilians rounded up and murdered by Serbian forces, witnesses tell Amnesty International delegates,” May 26, 1999.

[55] All three of the wire-services I consulted – Associated Press, United Press International, and Agence France-Presse – ran stories on the Amnesty bulletin. See “Amnesty calls for prisoner releases” (UPI); “Yugoslavia Urged To Free Prisoners,” (AP); “Amnesty calls for release of prisoners of conscience [held] in Serbia” (AFP) (all June 23, 1999).

[56] Quoted in AFP, “Amnesty calls for release.”

[57] “Unheeded Warnings at Root of Kosovo Crisis – Amnesty International Writes to the UN Security Council,” Amnesty International bulletin, May 5, 1999.

[58] “Kosovo: Playing Politics with Refugees in Macedonia,” Amnesty International bulletin, May 19, 1999.

[59] It is also the subject of a Gendercide Watch case-study (notably, the one that has received the greatest amount of traffic) at <>.

[60] Peter Adamson, article from the UNICEF Progress Report in New Internationalist, January/February 1997. For more on the gendercidal dimension of maternal mortality, see the Gendercide Watch case-study at <>.

[61] See the full text of the Convention at <>.

[62] See the International Labour Organization, Forced Labour in Myanmar (Burma), Report of the Commission of Inquiry, July 1998 <>.

[63] See my letter to ILO director-general Juan Somavia at <>.

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