Special Report

The Countries that Killed The Most Civilians During the 20th Century

There are currently genocidal acts being carried out in at least 10 countries, including Yemen, Myanmar, Syria, and Sudan, according to the multinational nonprofit alliance Genocide Watch. While some of these horrific acts of violence against particular ethnic, national, or religious groups are being committed by armed insurgents or warring factions, others are the direct actions of the governments of these nations.

To describe the intentional killing of unarmed civilians by a government, the late political scientist Rudolph Rummel coined the term “democide.” Democide can include genocide, politicide, and mass murder. Democide also includes deaths by forced labor or in concentration camps, purposeful killing of civilians – of the acting government’s country or another – during war, massacres, extrajudicial executions, forced deportations that lead to death, and starvation brought on by deliberate famines. 

According to Rummel, 262 million people were killed by democides in the 20th century – which is more than the total killed in combat. (This is how many Americans died in every major war since 1775.)

To find the countries that killed the most civilians in the 20th century, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the study “Freedom, Democracy, Peace; Power, Democide, and War” by Prof. Rummel, maintained by the University of Hawaii. We ranked each country based on the total number of people killed in democides, according to the study. There are some instances where a country is mentioned more than once because the democides took place at different times, often under different regimes.

Many of the deaths counted in the list took place during war and include not only the deaths of the country’s own civilian population but also civilians of other nations who were intentionally targeted. 

A large part of these deaths were the result of the actions of authoritarian and totalitarian governments. These include communist regimes in the Soviet Union, China, Yugoslavia, Poland, Cambodia, Vietnam, and North Korea, as well as fascist and right-wing regimes in Germany, China, and Japan. Some of the heads of state that sanctioned these killings have gone down in history as the most ruthless leaders of all time.

Click here to see the nations that killed the most civilians during the 20th century.

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