Operational Process – Stages of Genocide Model

Conducted on an ongoing basis, the information we gather on our internal tool Threatwiki is primarily event-based and and come from media and NGO reports, correspondents on the ground, and contacts with target communities themselves. Information gathered by our analysts help us to gauge how far the genocidal process has progressed, identify trends and patterns, who the main actors are, establish whether genocidal intent is present, and may inform operational prevention methods.

We use a model adapted from Gregory Stanton’s 8 Stages of Genocide to categorize in 9 different stages the events we monitor for our situation of concerns. Because many of these definitions overlap, the Sentinel Project has developed standards based on the need for discrete, understandable definitions that can be replicated across multiple situation of concerns (SOC) monitoring efforts.

  1. Discrimination
  2. Symbolization
  3. Dehumanization
  4. Organization
  5. Polarization
  6. Preparation
  7. Persecution
  8. Extermination
  9. Denial
  10. General


Systematic prejudicial treatment of people based on their membership in a particular communal group (i.e. the target group) in a way that is worse than the treatment given to members of the majority or non-targeted groups. This places target group members in a position where they are seen as undesirable members of society who are undeserving of equal treatment, thus setting them up to be dehumanized, though they may not yet generally be viewed as non-human or sub-human. In practical terms, discrimination serves to limit the life opportunities of target group members and transforms them into second-class citizens. Discrimination may be either official, as the result of formal state policies, or unofficial, as a result of commonly held attitudes in a given society.

Examples of events that would be tagged as Discrimination include:

  • Preferential hiring practices or the outright denial of employment opportunities in some or all categories of work.
  • Restriction or denial of government services.
  • Granting rights or access to resources (such as land and water) to some groups at the expense of others.
  • Limiting access to public education.


Symbolization is a process where symbols are used to identify others, often based on their physical characteristics. This ranges from the use of derogatory language to, on the extreme end, forcing individuals to wear physical markers to identify their race or group membership. Examples of this included the gold star used by the Nazis to mark people of Jewish origin and the blue scarves used by the Khmer Rouge to mark people from the Eastern Zone.

Examples of events that would be tagged as Symbolization include:

  • Authorities in a country (such as media or government) use propaganda or symbols to represent a group or individuals from that group as an “other.” They may be called weak, undesirable, or dishonourable; however, in order to maintain a contrast with Dehumanization, examples of Symbolization do not portray the group as an innate threat to society or as subhuman or nonhuman.
  • Authorities are imposing physical marking to identify group members.


Dehumanization is the Denial of the humanity of a group. Individuals from a group are identified as subhuman or nonhumans. They are often referred to as “animals, vermin, insects, or diseases.” The process of Dehumanization portrays group members as innately threatening to society, meaning that they are threatening solely because they are members of the group (not due to their political or social associations or activities). As a result of Dehumanization, crimes and attacks against members of the group are allowed to occur with impunity; they are ignored by authorities such as the police and courts

Examples of events that would be tagged as Dehumanization include:

  • Authoritative sources, such as government officials or media personalities, deny the humanity of group members. Group members are portrayed as nonhuman or subhuman.
  • Representations of the group as an innate threat to society. Individuals are, by extension, considered threats based solely on group membership.
  • Crimes and attacks against members of the group are ignored or encouraged.
  • Courts refuse to prosecute, and police refuse to arrest the perpetrators.


Organization refers to the process, by the perpetrators, of planning and developing resources to commit genocide. This includes the creation of militias, informal paramilitary groups, concentration camps, and mechanisms intended for the purpose of Extermination. To distinguish Organization from Preparation, the focus is on resources controlled by the perpetrator, rather than actions meant to directly affect members of the target group.

Examples of events that would be tagged as Organization include:

  • The creation and arming of militias or informal paramilitary groups, especially when membership is restricted to a specific race or ethnicity.
  • Creation of concentration or detention camps.
  • Creation of machines that have no purpose except for extermination.


Polarization refers to political or violent acts meant to create divisions in the society. Members of different groups are discouraged from normal social interactions, and members of certain ethnic or religious groups are denied the right to participate in society, often by denying them the right to attend school or join associations such as labour unions. Group members are blamed for terrorist attacks or terrorist attacks are committed to create divisions between sectarian groups. In some contexts, moderates are removed from political positions by force or procedural methods.

Examples of events that would be tagged as Polarization include:

  • Members of the group are denied the rights to participate in society normally. They are denied rights to attend school, join professional organizations or labour unions, gather in public, or participate in politics. Members of different groups are prohibited or otherwise discouraged from interacting socially.
  • Terrorist attacks occur that are blamed on a specific ethnic or religious group, or a group takes credit for terrorist attacks to create divisions between different groups.
  • Mixed status categories are unrecognized.
  • Peaceful political rallies are attacked to create divisions in politics, or political rallies are held to further divisions in society.
  • Political moderates are removed from power through force or other nonelectoral means. This is not always an indicator of Polarization, but can be depending on the political context in an SOC.


Preparation refers to actions taken by the perpetrators to prepare a target group for Extermination. The goal of Preparation is to identify members of the target group and reduce the target group’s ability to resist through disruptions such as arrest, detainment, forced migration, or exile.

Examples of events that would be tagged as Preparation include:

  • Arbitrary (without legal reason) arrest or detention of members of the target group.
  • Arbitrary seizure of property of members of the target group.
  • Authorities attempting to disarm members of the target group.
  • Authorities creating lists of group members or performing other activities to identify or map the demographics of target group.
  • Authorities dividing communities or families through forced migration or exile.
  • Members of target group are forced into concentration camps or ghettos.


The Persecution stage focuses on how the perpetrators of genocidal violence target and prepare their victims. It occurs through systematic treatment of individuals who are members of the target group to cause physical or mental pain and suffering. This cruel, persistent, and widespread treatment is generally intended to weaken the target group and place its members in a vulnerable position. This makes them less able to resist future abuses and eventual extermination.

Especially during early stages, persecution measures may target elite members of the target group, such as formal leaders, clergy, intellectuals, and business owners.

Examples of events that would be tagged as Persecution include:

  • Imprisonment of leaders, clergy, intellectuals and others who provide guidance to the group.
  • Harassment of group members through threats, arrests, vandalism, or assaults.
  • Torture of imprisoned group members.
  • Physical concentration or forced relocation of communities into ghettos or camps.
  • Restrictions on travel within or outside of the country.
  • Forced exile of group members.
  • Restriction or denial of access to necessities such as food, water, and medical supplies and treatment.
  • Confiscation of private property such as homes, businesses, money, and physical goods


Extermination refers to the actions which are meant to eliminate a target group through mass killings or other methods, such as forced sterilization or rape.

Examples of events that would be tagged as Extermination include:

  • Mass killings of members of the target group.
  • Creation of mass graves.
  • Forced sterilization of group members.
  • Mass rape of group members. This is often done with the purpose of eliminating the “purity” of group members in future generations.


Denial refers to statements or actions taken by the perpetrators to deny or dismiss the occurrence of genocide. Government or military officials deny genocide based on legal or semantic grounds. They will claim that casualties are insufficient to be called genocide or point to casualties from their own group. They will blame civil wars and other conflicts for the killings and deny that they were deliberately planned. Perpetrators of genocide may also deny the existence of discrimination or unfair treatment.

When looking for instances of Denial, it is important to remember the UN Genocide Convention defines genocide as “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”  Acts of genocide may be targeted at only one class or sub-set of the group.

Examples of events that would be tagged as Denial include:

  • Authorities deny genocide on legal or definitional grounds. They claim that casualty counts are not high enough to count as genocide, point to casualties among their supporters, or dismiss the deaths as caused by civil war.
  • Authorities deny the existence of activities or policies related to the other Operational Processes. They deny taking rights away from the target group.
  • Genocide crimes are covered up. Mass graves are hidden, and records are destroyed.


Datapoints are given the general tag if they describe events that are outside the scope of the Operational Process model but provide significant context to the events occurring in an SOC.

Examples of events that would be tagged as general include:

  • Political events such as elections and the appointment or dismissal of government officials.
  • Security events such as bombings, terrorist attacks, or military actions.
  • Human rights violations that do not fall under any other Operational Process category.
  • Natural disasters.
  • Significant economic disruptions.