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Crimes against humanity under communist regimes

Crimes against humanity have occurred under various Communist regimes. Actions such as forced deportations, massacres, torture, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, terror,[1] ethnic cleansing, enslavement, and the deliberate starvation of people such as during the Holodomor and the Great Leap Forward have been described as crimes against humanity.[2][3] The 2008 Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism stated that crimes committed in the name of Communism should be assessed as crimes against humanity. Very few people have been tried for these crimes, although Cambodia has prosecuted members of the Khmer Rouge[4] and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have passed laws that have led to the prosecution of several perpetrators for crimes against the Baltic peoples. They were tried for crimes committed during the Occupation of the Baltic states in 1940 and 1941, and during the reoccupation after the war. There were also trials for attacks that the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) carried out against the Forest Brethren.[5]


There is a scholarly consensus that the Cambodian genocide which was carried out by the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol Pot in what became known as the killing fields was a crime against humanity.[6] Legal scholars Antoine Garapon, David Boyle and sociologist Michael Mann and professor of Political Science Jacques Semelin all believe that the actions of the Communist Party of Kampuchea can best be described as a crime against humanity rather than genocide.[7] In 1997 the co prime ministers of Cambodia sought help from the United Nations in seeking justice for the crimes perpetrated by the communists during the years from 1975 to 1979. During the month of June that same year Pol Pot was taken prisoner during an internal power struggle within the Khmer Rouge and offered up to the international community. However, no country was willing to seek his extradition.[8] The policies enacted by the Khmer Rouge led to the deaths of one quarter of the population in just four years.[9]


In a speech before Parliament, President of Romania Traian Băsescu stated that "the criminal and illegitimate former communist regime committed massive human rights violations and crimes against humanity, killing and persecuting as many as two million people between 1945 and 1989"[10][11] The speech was based on the 660 page report of a Presidential Commission headed by Vladimir Tismaneanu, a professor at the University of Maryland. The report also said that “the regime exterminated people by assassination and deportation of hundreds of thousands of people,” and highlighted the Piteşti Experiment.[12] Gheorghe Boldur-Lăţescu has also said that the Piteşti Experiment was a crime against humanity,[13] and Dennis Deletant has described it as

An experiment of a grotesque originality .... (which) employed techniques of psychiatric abuse designed not only to inculcate terror into opponents of the regime but also to destroy the personality of the individual. The nature and the enormity of the experiment ... set Romania apart from the other Eastern European regimes.[14]


Dominic McGoldrick writes that as the head of a "highly centralised and oppressive" dictatorship, Josip Broz Tito wielded tremendous power in Yugoslavia, with his dictatorial rule administered through an elaborate bureaucracy which routinely suppressed human rights.[15] The main victims of this repression were known and alleged Stalinists during the first years, such as Dragoslav Mihailović and Dragoljub Mićunović, but during the following years even some of the most prominent among Tito's collaborators were arrested. On 19 November 1956 Milovan Đilas, perhaps the closest of Tito's collaborator and widely regarded as Tito's possible successor, was arrested because of his criticism against Tito's regime. The repression did not exclude intellectuals and writers, such as Venko Markovski who was arrested and sent to jail in January 1956 for writing poems considered anti-Titoist. Broz Tito made dramatical bloody repression and several massacres of POW after second world war: [16][17][18] [19]

Tito's Yugoslavia remained a tightly controlled police state.[20] According to David Mates, outside the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia had more political prisoners than all of the rest of Eastern Europe combined.[21] Tito's secret police was modelled on the Soviet KGB. Its members were ever-present and often acted extrajudicially,[22] with victims including middle-class intellectuals, liberals and democrats.[23] Yugoslavia was a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but scant regard was paid to some of its provisions.[24]

North Korea

Three victims of the prison camp system in North Korea unsuccessfully attempted to bring Kim Jong-il to justice with the aid of the Citizens Coalition for Human Rights of abductees and North Korean Refugees. In December 2010 they filed charges in The Hague.[25] The NGO group Christian Solidarity Worldwide has stated that the gulag system appears to be specifically designed to kill a large number of people who are labelled enemies or have a differing political belief.[26]

China under Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong was the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, which took control of China in 1949, until his death in September 1976. During this time, he instituted several reform efforts, the most notable of which were the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. In January 1958, Mao launched the 5-year plan, the latter part of which was known as the Great Leap Forward. The plan was intended to expedite production and heavy industry as a supplement to economic growth, similar to the soviet model, and the defining factor behind Mao's "Chinese" Marxist policies.

Mao spent ten months touring the country in 1958 in order to gain support for the Great Leap Forward and inspect the progress that had already been made. What this entailed was the humiliation, public castigation and torture of all who questioned the leap. The five-year-plan first instituted the division of farming communities into communes. The Chinese National Programme for Agricultural Development (NPAD) began to accelerate its drafting plans for the countries industrial and agricultural outputs. The drafting plans were initially successful as the Great Leap Forward divided the Chinese workforce and production soared (albeit briefly).[27] Eventually the planners developed even more ambitious goals, such as replacing the draft plans for 1962 with those for 1967, and the industries developed supply bottlenecks but they could not meet the growth demands. Rapid industrial development came in turn with a swelling of urban populations. In 1959 due to the furthering of collectivization, heavy industry production and the stagnation of the farming industry that did not keep up with the demands of population growth in combination with a year of unfortunate weather in farming areas, only 170 million tons of grain were produced, far below the actual amount of grain which the population needed. Mass starvation ensued, and it was made even worse in 1960, when only 144 million tons of grain were produced, a total amount which was 26 million tons lower than the total amount of grain that was produced in 1959.[28] The government instituted rationing, but between 1958 and 1962, it is estimated that at least 10 million people died of starvation. The famine did not go unnoticed, Mao was fully aware of the major famine that was sweeping the countryside but rather than try to fix the problem, he blamed it on counterrevolutionaries who were “hiding and dividing grain…”[29] Mao even symbolically decided to abstain from eating meat in honor of those who were suffering.[29]

Due to the widespread famine across the country, there were many reports of human cannibalism and horrific stories included that of a farmer from Hunan who was forced to kill and eat his own child. When questioned about it, he said he did it "out of mercy."[30] An original estimate of the final death toll ranged from 15-40 million. According to Frank Dikötter, a chair professor of humanities at the University of Hong Kong and the author of Mao’s Great Famine, a book which details the Great leap forward and the consequences of the strong armed implementation of the economic reform, the total number of people who were killed in the famine which lasted from 1958 to 1962 ran upwards of 45 million. Of those who were killed in the famine, 6-8% of them were often tortured first and then prematurely killed by the government. 2% of them committed suicide and 5% of them died in Mao’s labor camps which were built to hold those who were labelled “enemies of the people.”[31] In a New York Times article, Dikötter also references severe punishments for slight infractions such as being buried alive for stealing a handful of grain or losing an ear and being branded for digging up a potato.[32] Higher up the chain of command, a chairman in an executive meeting in 1959 expressed apathy with regard to the widespread suffering “When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.”[32]

See also



  1. ^ Kemp-Welch pp42
  2. ^ Rosefielde pp6
  3. ^ Karlsson pp5
  4. ^ Mydans, Seth (10 April 2017). "11 Years, $300 Million and 3 Convictions. Was the Khmer Rouge Tribunal Worth It?". New York Times.
  5. ^ Naimark pp25
  6. ^ Totten pp359
  7. ^ Semelin pp344
  8. ^ Lattimer pp214
  9. ^ Jones pp188
  10. ^ Shawl, Jeannie. "Romania president says Communist regime committed crimes against humanity". Jurist. Archived from the original on 12 March 2011.
  11. ^ Clej, Petru (18 December 2006). "Romania exposes communist crimes". BBC.
  12. ^ Smith, Craig S. (19 December 2006). "Romanian Leader Condemns Communist Rule". New York Times. Retrieved 12 September 2011.
  13. ^ Boldur-Lăţescu pp22
  14. ^ Deletant, Dennis (1995). Ceauşescu and the Securitate: coercion and dissent in Romania, 1965–1989. pp. 29–33. ISBN 978-1-56324-633-3.
  15. ^ McGoldrick 2000, p. 17.
  16. ^ Cohen, Bertram D.; Ettin, Mark F.; Fidler, Jay W. (2002). Group Psychotherapy and Political Reality: A Two-Way Mirror. International Universities Press. p. 193. ISBN 0-8236-2228-2.
  17. ^ Andjelic, Neven (2003). Bosnia-Herzegovina: The End of a Legacy. Frank Cass. p. 36. ISBN 0-7146-5485-X.
  18. ^ Tierney, Stephen (2000). Accommodating National Identity: New Approaches in International and Domestic Law. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 17. ISBN 90-411-1400-9.
  19. ^ European Public Hearing on “Crimes Committed by Totalitarian Regimes" page 156 <<Most of the mass killings were carried out from May to July 1945; among the victims were mostly the “returned” (or “home-captured”) Home guards and prisoners from other Yugoslav provinces. In the following months, up to January 1946 when the Constitution of the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia was passed and OZNA had to hand the camps over to the organs of the Ministry of the Interior, those killings were followed by mass killing of Germans, Italians and Slovenes suspected of collaborationism and anti-communism. Individual secret killings were carried out at later dates as well. The decision to “annihilate” opponents must had been adopted in the closest circles of Yugoslav state leadership, and the order was certainly issued by the Supreme Commander of the Yugoslav Army Josip Broz – Tito, although it is not known when or in what form.>>
  20. ^ Tell it to the world, Eliott Behar. Dundurn Press. 2014. ISBN 978-1-4597-2380-1.
  21. ^ Matas 1994, p. 36.
  22. ^ Corbel 1951, pp. 173–174.
  23. ^ Cook 2001, p. 1391.
  24. ^ Matas 1994, p. 37.
  25. ^ "Gulag survivors demand trial of Kim Jong-il for crimes against humanity". Asia News. 2 January 2010.
  26. ^ Jones pp216
  27. ^ Chan, Alfred L. (7 June 2001). Mao's Crusade: Politics and Policy Implementation in China's Great Leap Forward. OUP Oxford. p. 13. ISBN 9780191554018.
  28. ^ "The Great Leap Forward - History Learning Site". History Learning Site. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  29. ^ a b Valentino, Benjamin A. (8 December 2005). Final Solutions: Mass Killing and Genocide in the 20th Century. Cornell University Press. pp. 127–132. ISBN 0801472733.
  30. ^ "A tragic episode of cannibalism during the famine of the Great Leap Forward (Graphic Content)". China Underground. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  31. ^ "Synopsis". Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  32. ^ a b Dikötter, Frank (1 October 2010). Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 88. ISBN 9780802779281.


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