The atrocities committed against humanity
Posted on November 18th, 2016

By Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge 

 “Between 1937 and 1945, the Japanese military murdered from nearly 3,000,000 to over 10,000,000 people, most likely 6,000,000 Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos, and Indochinese among others, including Western prisoners of war.”

As long as people believe in absurdities, they will continue to commit atrocities – Voltaire

(January 10, Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian) The human history is full violence and atrocities. Some scholars have suggested that aggression should be regarded as a basic instinct. Freud considered aggression as a dynamic factor in mental life. Psychologist Eric Fromm in his most well known work the Anatomy of Human Destructiveness expresses that the violence of the dominant culture is not biological in its origin. The aggression and destructiveness are approached, as multi-dimensional phenomenon .These may be a tragic facet of the human condition. During the past, several hundred years’ mass atrocities were committed against humanity. Most of these atrocities were committed by the technologically advanced nations. The victims suffered and the perpetrators went unnoticed. The history teaches us a lesson. If the humans unable to learn from their past mistakes the violence and atrocities will affect the modern civilization repeatedly.

Atrocities have usually involved torture, maiming, or killing of civilians and noncombatants; destruction of nonmilitary targets; maltreatment and killing of wounded and prisoners of war; and use of weapons to cause superfluous damage or injury.


Genocide is the organized killing of a people for the express purpose of putting an end to their collective existence. Genocide requires central planning and a machinery to implement it. The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide describes genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” This definition applies in the case of the atrocities committed against humanity by various superpowers in the past.

Atrocities Committed by the Spanish Invaders in South America

Francisco Pizarro went for the conquest of Peru -South America in 1524, with 80 men and 40 horses. Pizarro was not a literate man but he was a rustles soldier driven by insatiable desire to find gold. Spanish conquerors led by Francisco Pizarro wiped-out a civilization. The Spanish invaders killed the natives, looted their gold. The invaders even used biological mode of attacks introducing smallpox and measles to the indigenous people killing masses. By 1650 AD many native people had died, empty houses stood in empty villages. The flourished self-sufficient civilization of South America came to nonexistent. It was a terrifying atrocity committed by the Spanish invaders in South America.

The cruel and Iron Fist of the Portuguese Invaders

As a colonial super power, Portuguese had a fear inducing reputation. The Portuguese unleashed many cruelties against the people of Asia, Africa and South America. They committed a number of atrocities in Ceylon. They vandalized the religious buildings and looted the wealth. They tortured the natives and forced them to renounce their traditional religion. The General Azavedu is still remembered as a symbol of a bloodthirsty villain who ordered the Portuguese Army to launched heavy cruelty against the people. They killed infants, raped women and burnt books. The people were subjected to torture, massacre, and starvation.

Atrocities committed by the British Army

The British Army committed a number of atrocities in Africa, India, and Sri Lanka. The Sepoy rebellion in 1857 which was an outcry against the repression was crushed in a ruthless manner. On the 13 April 1919 General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer of the British Army ordered his men to open fire at an unarmed group of people which mostly consisted of women and children at Amritsar which later came to known as Jallianvala Baga massacre. Over 300 killed and thousands wounded. Although children were among the victims no action was taken against the General Dyer by the British Army.

A few years after the Kandyan Convention in 1818 natives stood against the British colonial rulers. Martial Law was declared and the revolt was suppressed in a vigorous manner. Major MacDonald of the British Army set fire to the houses, burnt the grain and killed the cattle as an act of retaliation. Many collaborators were shot and some were exiled. Even the family members were taken prisoners. Keppetipola Disawe- the prominent leader of the Uva rebellion of 1918 was executed and his family was deported. Keppetipola Disawe ’s little son died under the captivity.

The British Army used a cruel force to defeat the 1848 revolt led by Gongalegoda Bada and Puran Appu . Inhuman and sadistic punishments were inflicted on the villagers and the Army destroyed the fertile social fabric. Many people became the victims of hostile actions and starvation.

The Dark Face of America

The new white settlers in America considered the native tribal people as savages and they were subjected to various atrocities. Their lands were seized and the culture was destroyed. Although the Red Indians were portrayed as brutal uncivilized community even in the Hollywood movies , they had a developed and distinctive livelihood, which connected with nature. They were nature-loving people and helped to preserve the environment for thousand years.

The Native American chief Seattle expressed his surprise when the US President Franklin Pierce asked him to sell the land. In return. Seattle wrote how can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.

Slavery in the United States had its origins with the first English Colonization of North America in 1607. Slavery lasted in the US until 1865. The slaves treated like material property rather than humans. They had to work in plantations under rough conditions. In the slave market men were separated from their wives, and frequently children were taken from their mothers. The slaves were often punished for slightest mistakes and these punishments consisted of wiping, clubbing, and sometimes chopping off body parts.

The Americans have also been criticized for the atrocities committed in Vietnam and Iraq. In Vietnam the US forces were accused of using napalm and crop destruction as well as killing of killing of unarmed civilians, mostly women and children, at the village of My Lai in 1968.

In 2003 Human Rights Watch report said that civilian deaths in Iraq “reveal a pattern by U.S. forces of over-aggressive tactics, indiscriminate shooting in residential areas and a quick reliance on lethal forces. Some informed estimates place Iraqi civilian causalities at over 600,000.

Italian Crimes in Africa

In October 1911, during the Italo – Turkish War, Italian forces invaded North African territories (modern day Libya) slaughtering a large number of tribal men women and children. Mussolini’s soldiers committed massive atrocities in Libya and Ethiopia before and during the Second World War. They used tanks and airplanes and often poisonous mustard gas against the natives. Italian Fascists built concentration cams before the Nazi Holocaust in Colonial Libya during 1929 – 1933. In these concentration camps men were tortured and killed, women were raped, children were staved to death. The Libyan tribal leader Omar Mukhtar stood against the invaders and launched a 20 year long guerrilla war using primitive weaponry against the well equipped Italian Army. His freedom struggle came to an end in 1931. He was wounded in a battle, captured and then executed by the Italian Army. 

The Italian Fascists conducted a systematic ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories in North Africa. The Italian fascist invasion in 1935 and subsequent occupation of Ethiopia were accompanied by numerous atrocities. The Italian forces used mustard gas against the civil targets, bombed hospitals and villages killing tens of thousands of people.

French in Algeria and Indochina

The French occupied Algeria for 132 years and worst atrocities were committed between 1830 and 1962. In 1840 Thomas Bugeaud, the Governor General of Algeria launched an attack on Algerian civilians killing and deporting masses. According to some reports hundreds of people were burned alive or asphyxiated in caves where they sought refuge from the advancing French troops. The French troops set fire to Algerian villages killing civilians and raping women. They destroyed property, food, and animal stocks which led to starvation among the indigenous population. During France’s occupation of Algeria a large numbers of Algerians were forced into “tent cities” and concentration camps. . It has been estimated that from 1830 to 1900, between 15 and 25% of the Algerian population died in such camps.

In 1957 the International Red Cross disclosed the widespread use of torture by the French army and police against thousands of Algerians The torture techniques used by the French included electricity applied to the most sensitive parts of the body, near drowning in water, sodomy with glass and wood objects, hanging by the feet and hands, and burning with cigarettes. (Maran, Rita (1989). Torture: The Role of Ideology in the French-Algerian War. New York: Praeger). The most outrages act was the Massacres of May 1945 in which 45,000 Algerians were killed within a few days by the French occupied forces.

French Indo-China comprised the French protectorates of Cambodia, Laos, Annam, Tongkin, and the French colony of Cochin-China. In May 1945 1400 former French POWs released by the British from Japanese internment camps in South Vietnam entered Saigon and went on a deadly rampage attacking civilians even killing innocent children. French forces violated the laws or customs of war in the Indochina conflict which lasted from 1946 – 1954. The French Foreign Legions last stand in Indo China in 1950 and they were defeated in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu .

The Horrific Face of the Japanese Imperialism

During the period of Japanese Imperialism a large number of atrocities committed in the occupied Asian countries. The Japanese Imperial Army conducted crimes against enemy civilians and enemy combatants. In the ill famous Nanking Massacre in 1937 hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians were murdered and 20,000–80,000 women were raped by the Japanese soldiers. The Imperial Army abducted young women from China and Korea to serve as comfort women or sex slaves. An estimated one hundred thousand to four hundred thousand female sex slaves were forced to deliver sexual services to Japanese soldiers during the World War 2.

Between 1937 and 1945, the Japanese military murdered from nearly 3,000,000 to over 10,000,000 people, most likely 6,000,000 Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos, and Indochinese among others, including Western prisoners of war. (Professor R.J Mummel the Faculty of Political Science – University of Hawaii).

The Gloomy History of Australia

The Europeans, who established the new settlements in Australia, did not encounter any major resistance from the native population. The aboriginals sometimes helped the white settlers providing food when they faced scarcities. The Aboriginals were no match for the highly armed European settlers. Gradually the natives were attacked and driven to the desert land. In the ill famous Myall Creek massacre in 1830 even the aboriginal children were murdered.

From 1869 to the late 1960s (in some parts until 1970) the Australian governments removed part-Aboriginal children from their mothers, parents, families and communities, often by force. . Children were placed with institutions and from the 1950s began also being placed with white families. Aboriginal children were expected to become labourers or servants, Aboriginal girls in particular were sent to homes established by the Board to be trained in domestic service. These victims later came to know as the Stolen Generation. According to Dr Jane McKendrick Psychiatrist at the Melbourne University stated that ‘a large number of people from the Stolen Generations were either psychologically, physically or sexually abused while in care.

Atrocities committed by the German Army during the WW2

Under the Hitler’s regime, NAZI Germany exterminated over 6 million Jews in concentration camps. The German SS committed serious crimes in the occupied territory. Torture, deportation, execution often used against Jews, Polish, Russian and Gipsy people. Between 1939 and 1945, the SS assisted by collaborationist governments and recruits from occupied countries, systematically killed somewhere between 11 and 14 million people. Many innocent people were starved to death. The Holocaust remains as a dark patch in the human history.

Israelites against Palestine

Israel was condemned by the UN for launching systematic attacks against Palestine civilians. The resent attacks in Gaza killing of civilians and destruction of thousands of homes could be described as one of the dreadful atrocities committed by the Israel Army. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 1,434 Palestinians were killed during the Israeli offensive, 960 of them civilians, among them 288 children. Israeli actions in Gaza created a humanitarian as well as human dignity crisis. Following massive destruction of livelihoods and the deterioration of infrastructure 80 % of Gaza population now live in humanitarian assistance.

Ending Atrocities

Crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, “are particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Murder; extermination; torture; rape and political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. Isolated inhumane acts of this nature may constitute grave infringements of human rights, or depending on the circumstances war crimes but may fall short of falling into the category of crimes under discussion.

Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group, to Crimes Against Humanity Initiative expresses the views as follows

When it comes to international relations, and in particular the great issues of war and peace, violence, and catastrophic human rights violations with which we are concerned here, there is a well-established view that anyone who approaches things in this kind of generally optimistic frame of mind must be incorrigibly naïve, if not outright demented. Certainly in the case of genocide and atrocity crimes—either directly committed by a government against its own people, or allowed to happen by a government unable or unwilling to stop it—it is hard for even the incorrigibly naïve to remain optimistic. In this world we inhabit—full of cynicism, double standards, crude assertions of national interest, high-level real-politic, and low-level maneuvering for political advantage.

There are no Cruel Nations

Every nation has committed some sort of atrocity against one another. In the broad sense all were perpetrators as well as the victims. There are no cruel or atrocious nations as such. Only individuals with their prejudices can lead the people to commit atrocities. The people ought to be conscious and vigilant about such dark forces.

The words of the Indian Philosopher J. Krishnamurti ( in Freedom from the Known, pp.51-52 ) gives broader understanding how the seeds of violence and prejudices germinate in the human mind.

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.

Michael Arthur Newdow on Atrocities and Genocide

Michael Arthur Newdow expresses his views on Atrocities and Genocide as follows…..

People don’t simply wake up one day and commit genocide. They start by setting themselves apart from others, diminishing the stature of those adhering to dissenting beliefs in small, insidious steps. They begin by saying, ‘We’re the righteous, and we’ll tolerate those others.’ And as the toleration diminishes over time, the inevitable harms are overlooked. It is for that reason that James Madison wisely wrote that ‘it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties’.”

One Response to “The atrocities committed against humanity”

  1. Christie Says:

    Dear Dr. Ruwan; look at some facts that are applicable to the group of people I an sure you are one the Sinhalese who inhabited the island of Ceylon the land of the Sinhalese.

    They are being wiped out from the Earth by the Indian Empire and Indian colonial parasites. Majority of the Indian Colonial parasites are Tamils whose population is almost six times that of the Sinhalese.

    Look what India has done to Bo people of Andaman and Nicobar Islands in less than six decades. Then Creoles of Mauritius and Guyana.

    Nonviolent aggression and oppression can wipe out groups of people.

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