Democide

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is a term coined by political scientist R. J. Rummel for "the murder of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder.” Rummel created the term as an extended concept to include forms of government murder that are not covered by the legal definition of genocide, and it has found currency among other scholars. Democide is death by government relating to genocides. Democides are not the elimination of entire cultural groups, but rather groups within the country that the government feels they need to be eradicated for political reasons and future threats. According to Rummel, genocide has three different meanings. The ordinary meaning is murder by government of people due to their national, ethnic, racial, or religious group membership.[1] The legal meaning of genocide refers to the international treaty, the Genocide Convention.[2] This also includes nonlethal acts that in the end eliminate or greatly hinder the group. Looking back on history one can see the different variations of democides that have occurred, but it is still the act of killing or mass murder. A great example would relate to Hitler and Mao Zedong. A generalized meaning of genocide is similar to the ordinary meaning but also includes government killings of political opponents or otherwise intentional murder. In order to avoid confusion over which meaning is intended, Rummel created the term democide for the third meaning.[3]

The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.

Rummel defines democide as "The murder of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder.” For example, government-sponsored killings for political reasons would be considered democide. Democide can also include deaths arising from “intentionally or knowingly reckless and depraved disregard for life”; this brings into account many deaths arising through various neglects and abuses, such as forced mass starvation. Rummel explicitly excludes battle deaths in his definition. Capital punishment, actions taken against armed civilians during mob action or riot, and the deaths of noncombatants killed during attacks on military targets so long as the primary target is military, are not considered democide.

He has further stated: “I use the civil definition of murder, where someone can be guilty of murder if they are responsible in a reckless and wanton way for the loss of life, as in incarcerating people in camps where they may soon die of malnutrition, unattended disease, and forced labor, or deporting them into wastelands where they may die rapidly from exposure and disease.”

Some examples of democide cited by Rummel include the Great Purges carried out by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union (despite those people were executed), the deaths from the colonial policy in the Congo Free State, and Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward resulting in a famine which killed millions of people. According to Rummel, these were not cases of genocide, because those who were killed were not selected on the basis of their race, but were killed in large numbers as a result of government policies. Famine is classified by Rummel as democide if it fits the definition above.

For instance, Rummel only recently classified Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward as democide. He believed that Mao’s policies were largely responsible for the famine, but he was misled about it, and finally when he found out, he stopped it and changed his policies. Thus, according to Rummel, is not an intentional famine and thus not a democide. However, contradictory claims from Jung Chang and John Halliday’s controversial Mao: the Unknown Story allege that Mao knew about the famine from the beginning but did not care, and eventually Mao had to be stopped in a meeting of 7,000 top Communist Party members. Based on the book’s claims, Rummel now views the famine as intentional and a democide.


[1]   Rudolph Joseph Rummel, Death by Government (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1994), at: https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE1.HTM

[2]   Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Approved and proposed for signature and ratification or accession by General Assembly resolution 260 A (III) of 9 December 1948, at:

https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/documents/atrocity-crimes/Doc.1_Convention%20on%20the%20Prevention%20and%20Punishment%20of%20the%20Crime%20of%20Genocide.pdf.

[3]   Rudolph Joseph Rummel, "Democide vs. Other Causes of Death,” Democratic Peace Blog (1 February 2005), at: . https://democraticpeace.wordpress.com/2009/07/01/democide-vs-other-causes-of-death/.

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