Introduction to Slavery and Genocide

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Introduction to Slavery and Genocide

Personal freedom is an essential cornerstone of human rights. The most basic aspect of personal freedom is self-ownership, meaning no human being may own another as property or in bondage for his or her labor. The United Nations Universal Declaration states that "[n]o one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms."

This chapter primarily addresses African slavery in England and the Americas from 1800 to 1865. Before the mid-twentieth century, human rights issues were often debated within the context of religion or morality. The article "Slaveholding Not Sinful" presents a nineteenth-century argument that slaveholding is consistent with Christian theology. Conversely, most abolitionist literature of the day was bolstered by religious teachings against slavery.

Slavery is not an historical relic. While slavery was outlawed in the United States in 1864 by the Emancipation Proclamation (included in this chapter), many forms of slavery still exist in the twenty-first century. Chattel slavery—the actual ownership of another human being is rare—but bondage slavery, owning a person's labor contract is alarmingly common. No nations recognize slavery as a legal institution, but some human rights groups assert that as of 2006, nearly 30 million people across the globe may be living in some form of slavery. Labor and sex slavery is a growing international problem. The article on comfort women discusses forced sex slavery. Issues involving labor slavery are discussed in the chapter "Working Conditions and Labor."

Slavery dehumanizes the enslaved. It fosters the notion of inferior classes of human beings, likens people to chattel, and undermines a crucial moral barrier that prevents most people from abusing or murdering others. Slavery turns people into a commodity, one that can be bought and sold for economic gain. Further dehumanization of a group of people—members of a certain race, ethnicity, or religion for example—can yield catastrophic consequences. The ability to strip target victims of their humanness is a necessary prelude to genocide, the mass killing of a target group with common characteristics.

Genocide is specifically defined by international treaty. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as:

Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d)Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Included in this chapter are entries highlighting the horrors of the Holocaust, the "Killing Fields" of Cambodia, Kosovo, and Sudan.

The editors have chosen to adopt a broad definition of genocide to highlight, not only international wrangling over terminology, but also the prevalence of mass killings. Terminology carries consequences for policy and intervention, but it does not alter the horror of such crimes against humanity.

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Introduction to Slavery and Genocide

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Introduction to Slavery and Genocide