The Genocide Factor, an award-winning four-part documentary, discusses brutality and murder throughout history in an effort to understand past attempts at genocide and to prevent future horrors. The first two hours, presented on April 9th, Holocaust Remembrance Day, covered atrocities from Biblical times to World War II, including interviews with Holocaust survivors. This first part also includes a section on racism in America and the Tulsa Riots.

The second half of the film examined contemporary instances of genocide and ethnic cleansing, including Cambodia’s Killing Fields, Indonesia and East Timor, the Sudan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the experience of Kurds in Iraq, Iran and Turkey. The last hour of The Genocide Factor presented mass killings in Africa, the Former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, and the Arab/Israeli conflict. It also examined the events of September 11 as an illustration of some people’s desire to obliterate another group with differing world outlooks.

The 20th Century has been considered the bloodiest. Since 1900 alone, an estimated 160 million innocent civilians have been murdered in acts of genocide. More troubling is that modern conflict increasingly targets civilians. For instance, during World War II, the ratio of military dead to civilians killed was 9:1. Since then, the ratio has reversed.

The act of genocide was not referred to as "genocide" until 1943 when the international jurist, Raphael Lemkin, coined the word from the Greek "genos" meaning race or tribe and the Latin suffix "cide" meaning to kill. He gave many instances of a group being targeted for extermination by means of a calculated systematic plan, simply because of its religion and ethnic or racial origin.

Wilson Center Scholar Greg Stanton led a discussion following the film. He noted that acts of genocide are acts perpetrated by human beings and it is the responsibility of humans to stop such it from occurring. Furthermore, it is not that we don’t know that such acts may occur; modern communication transmits the warning signs almost simultaneously. The problem is that governments and the international community do not have the political will to act. The United Nations, stung by the intervention in Somalia, fearful of another mission of ambiguous intent, participation, and support, and hampered by the sovereignty issues raised by member states, did not take decisive action to intervene. Individual member states in a position to act also delayed unilateral measures. Within three months, UNAMIR was reduced to 450 personnel; between 500,000 and 800,000 Rwandans, mostly Tutsi, were dead; 500,000 Rwandans were displaced within the country; and over two million Rwandans had fled to surrounding countries. More human tragedy was compressed into three months in Rwanda than occurred in four years in the former Yugoslavia

Anita Sharma Conflict Prevention Project, 202-691-4083