Communal Violence
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Communal Violence
Dhammayietra, an annual peace march in Lampatao, Cambodia at Thailand border against communal violence.

Communal violence is a form of violence that is perpetrated across ethnic or communal lines, the violent parties feel solidarity for their respective groups, and victims are chosen based upon group membership.[1] The term includes conflicts, riots and other forms of violence between communities of different religious faith or ethnic origins.[2]

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime includes any conflict and form of violence between communities of different religious group, different sects or tribes of same religious group, clans, ethnic origins or national origin as communal violence.[3] However, this excludes conflict between two individuals or two families.

Communal violence is found in Africa,[4][5] the Americas,[6][7] Asia,[8][9] Europe[10] and Australia.[11]

The term "communal violence" was coined by European colonial authorities as they wrestled to manage outbreaks of violence between religious, ethnic and disparate groups in their colonies, particularly Africa and South Asia, in early 20th century.[12][13][14]

Communal violence, in different parts of the world, is alternatively referred to as ethnic violence, non-State conflict, violent civil disorder, minorities unrest, mass racial violence, inter-communal violence and ethno-religious violence.[15]



A painting by François Dubois depicting the communal violence in France during the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre. Over two months in 1572, Catholics killed tens of thousands of Huguenots in France.[16][17]

Human history has experienced numerous episodes of communal violence.[18] For example, in medieval Europe, Protestants clashed with Catholics, Christians clashed with Muslims while both perpetuated violence against Jews and Roma minorities. In 1561, Huguenots in Toulouse took out in a procession through the streets to express their solidarity for Protestant ideas. A few days later, the Catholics hunted down some of the leaders of the procession, beat them and burned them at the stake.[19] In the French town of Pamiers, communal clashes were routine between Protestants and Catholics, such as during holy celebrations where the Catholics took out a procession with a statue of St. Anthony, sang and danced while they carried the statue around town. Local Protestants would year after year disrupt the festivities by throwing stones at the Catholics. In 1566, when the Catholic procession reached a Protestant neighborhood, the Protestants chanted "kill, kill, kill !!" and days of communal violence with numerous fatalities followed.[20] In 1572, thousands of Protestants were killed by Catholics during communal violence in each of the following cities - Paris, Aix, Bordeaux, Bourges, Lyon, Meaux, Orleans, Rouen, Toulouse, and Troyes.[16][17] In Switzerland, communal violence between the Reformation movement and Catholics marked the 16th century.[21]


The Horn of Africa and the rest of Western Africa have a similar history of communal violence. Nigeria has seen centuries of communal violence between different ethnic groups particularly between Christian south and Islamic north.[22][23] In 1964, after receiving independence from British rule, there were widespread communal violence in the ethnically diverse state of Zanzibar. The violent groups were Arabs and Africans, that expanded along religious lines, and the communal violence ultimately led to the overthrow of the Sultan of Zanzibar.[24][25] Local radio announced the death of tens of thousands of "stooges", but later estimates for deaths from Zanzibar communal violence have varied from hundreds to 2,000-4,000 to as many as 20,000.[26][27] In late 1960s and early 1970s, there were widespread communal violence against Kenyans and Asians in Uganda with waves of theft, physical and sexual violence, followed by expulsions by Idi Amin.[28][29] Idi Amin mentioned his religion as justification for his actions and the violence.[30] Coptic Christians have suffered communal violence in Egypt for decades,[31] with frequency and magnitude increasing since 1920s.[32]


Arson and communal violence of 1946 between Muslims and Jains, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

East, South and Southeast Asia have recorded numerous instances of communal violence. For example, Singapore suffered a wave of communal violence in 20th century between Malays and Chinese.[33] In Indian subcontinent, numerous 18th through 20th century records of the British colonial administration mention communal violence between Hindus and Muslims, as well as Sunni and Shia sects of Islam, particularly during processions related to respective religious celebrations.[34][35]

The frequency of communal violence in South Asia increased after the first partition of Bengal in 1905, where segregation, unequal political and economic rights were imposed on Hindus and Muslims by Lord Curzon, based on religion. The colonial government was viewed by each side as favoring the other side, resulting in a wave of communal riots and 1911 reversal of Bengal partition and its re-unification.[36] In 1919, after General Dyer ordered his soldiers to fire on unarmed protestors inside a compound in Amritsar, killing 380 civilians, communal violence followed in India against British migrants.[37] There were hundreds of incidents of communal violence between 1905 and 1947, many related to religious, political sovereignty questions including partition of India along religious lines into East Pakistan, West Pakistan and India.[38] The 1946 to 1947 period saw some of the worst communal violence of 20th century, where waves of riots and violence killed between 100,000 and a million people, from Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Jain religions, particularly in cities and towns near the modern borders of India-Pakistan and India-Bangladesh. Examples of these communal violence include the so-called Direct Action Day, Noakhali riots and the Partition riots in Rawalpindi.[39][40]

The 20th century witnessed inter-religious, intra-religious and ethnic communal violence in the Middle East, South Russia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia.[12][41]

National laws


The Indian law defines communal violence as, "any act or series of acts, whether spontaneous or planned, resulting in injury or harm to the person and or property, knowingly directed against any person by virtue of his or her membership of any religious or linguistic minority, in any State in the Union of India, or Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes within the meaning of clauses (24) and (25) of Article 366 of the Constitution of India" [42]


In Indonesia, communal violence is defined as that is driven by a sense of religious, ethnic or tribal solidarity. The equivalence of tribalism to ethnicity was referred locally as kesukuan.[12] Communal violence in Indonesia includes numerous localized conflicts between various social groups found on its islands.[43]


In Kenya, communal violence is defined as that violence that occurs between different community who identify themselves based on religion, tribes, language, sect, race and others. Typically this sense of community identity comes from birth and is inherited.[44] Similar definition has been applied for 47 African countries, where during 1990-2010, about 7,200 instances of communal violence and inter-ethnic conflicts has been seen.[45]


Damage from communal violence between Christian Greeks and Muslim Turks in Cyprus.

Colm Campbell has proposed, after studying the empirical data and sequence of events during communal violence in South Africa, Palestinian Territories and Northern Ireland, that communal violence typically follows when there is degradation of rule of law, the state fails to or is widely seen as unable to provide order, security and equal justice, which then leads to mass mobilization, followed by radicalization of anger among one or more communities, and ultimately violent mobilization. Targeted mass violence by a few from one community against innocent members of other community, suppression of complaints, refusal to prosecute, killing peaceful demonstrators, imprisonment of people of a single community while refusal to arrest members of other community in conflict, perceived or actual prisoner abuse by the state are often the greatest mobilizers of communal violence.[46][47]

Research suggests that ethnic segregation may also cause communal violence. Empirically estimating the effect of segregation on the incidence of violence across 700 localities in Rift Valley Province of Kenya after the contested 2007-2008 general election, Kimuli Kahara finds that local ethnic segregation increases communal violence by decreasing interethnic trust rather than by making it easier to organize violence.[48] Even if a small minority of individuals prefer to live in ethnically homogenous settings due to fear of other ethnic groups or otherwise, it can result in high degrees of ethnic segregation.[49] Kahara argues that such ethnic segregation decreases the possibility of positive contact across ethnic lines.[50] Integration and the resultant positive interethnic contact reduces prejudice by allowing individuals to correct false beliefs about members of other ethnic groups, improving intergroup relations consequently.[51] Thus, segregation is correlated with low levels of interethnic trust. This widespread mistrust along ethnic lines explains the severity of communal violence by implying that when underlying mistrust is high, it is easier for extremists and elites to mobilize support for violence, and that where violence against members of other ethnic groups is supported by the public, perpetrators of such violence are less likely to face social sanctions.[52]

Alternate names

In China, the communal violence in Xinjiang province is called ethnic violence.[53] Communal violence and riots have also been called non-State conflict,[54] violent civil or minorities unrest,[55] mass racial violence,[56] social or inter-communal violence[57] and ethno-religious violence.[58]

See also


  1. ^ Horowitz, D.L. (2000) The Deadly Ethnic Riot. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA
  2. ^ Communal Oxford Dictionaries
  3. ^ Homicide, Violence and Conflict UNODC, United Nations
  4. ^ Kynoch, G. (2013). Reassessing transition violence: Voices from South Africa's township wars, 1990-4. African Affairs, 112(447), 283-303
  5. ^ John F. McCauley, Economic Development Strategies and Communal Violence in Africa, Comparative Political Studies February 2013 vol. 46 no. 2 182-211
  6. ^ Willis, G. D. (2014), Antagonistic authorities and the civil police in Sao Paulo Brazil, Latin American Research Review, 49(1), 3-22
  7. ^ Resource guide for municipalities UNODC
  8. ^ Mancini, L. (2005) Horizontal Inequality and Communal Violence: Evidence from Indonesian Districts (CRISE Working Paper No. 22, Oxford, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford)
  9. ^ Werbner, P. (2010), Religious identity, The Sage handbook of identities, ISBN 978-1412934114, Chapter 12
  10. ^ Todorova, T. (2013), 'Giving Memory a Future': Confronting the Legacy of Mass Rape in Post-conflict Bosnia-Herzegovina, Journal of International Women's Studies, 12(2), 3-15
  11. ^ Bell, P., & Congram, M. (2013), Communication Interception Technology (CIT) and Its Use in the Fight against Transnational Organised Crime (TOC) in Australia: A Review of the Literature, International Journal of Social Science Research, 2(1), 46-66
  12. ^ a b c Gerry van Klinken, Communal Violence and Democratization in Indonesia - Small Town Wars, ISBN 978-0-415-41713-6, Routledge
  13. ^ Arafaat A. Valiani, Militant Publics in India: Physical Culture and Violence in the Making of a Modern Polity, ISBN 978-0230112575, Palgrave Macmillan, pp 29-32
  14. ^ David Killingray, Colonial Warfare in West Africa, in Imperialism and War: Essays on Colonial Wars in Asia and Africa (Edited by Jaap A. de Moor, H. L. Wesseling), ISBN 978-9004088344, Brill Academic
  15. ^ Donald Horowitz (1985), Ethnic Groups in Conflict, ISBN 978-0520053854
  16. ^ a b Parker, G. (ed.) (1994), Atlas of World History, Fourth Edition, BCA (HarperCollins), London;
  17. ^ a b Partner, P. (1999), Two Thousand Years: The Second Millennium, Granda Media (Andre Deutsch), Britain, ISBN 0-233-99666-4;
    • Upshall, M. (ed.) (1990), The Hutchinson Paperback Encyclopedia, Arrow Books, London, ISBN 0-09-978200-6
  18. ^ David Nirenberg, Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages, Princeton University Press, 1998
  19. ^ Pierre-Jean Souriac, "Du corps à corps au combat fictif. Quand les catholiques toulousains affrontaient leurs homologues protestants," in Les affrontements: Usages, discours et rituels, Editor: Frédérique Pitou and Jacqueline Sainclivier, Presses Universitaires de Rennes (2008)
  20. ^ Julius Ruff, Violence in Early Modern Europe 1500-1800, Cambridge University Press, 2001
  21. ^ Bruce Gordon (2002), The Swiss Reformation, Manchester University Press, ISBN 978-0719051180, pp. 90-99
  22. ^ Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations?, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Summer, 1993), pp. 22-49
  23. ^ Desplat & Ostebo (2013), Muslim Ethiopia: The Christian Legacy, Identity Politics, and Islamic Reformism, ISBN 978-1137325297
  24. ^ Conley, Robert (14 January 1964), "Regime Banishes Sultan", New York Times, p. 4, retrieved 2008.
  25. ^ Parsons, Timothy (2003), The 1964 Army Mutinies and the Making of Modern East Africa, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 978-0-325-07068-1
  26. ^ Conley, Robert (19 January 1964), "Nationalism Is Viewed as Camouflage for Reds", New York Times, p. 1, retrieved 2008
  27. ^ Los Angeles Times (20 January 1964), "Slaughter in Zanzibar of Asians, Arabs Told", Los Angeles Times, p. 4, retrieved 2009
  28. ^ Kasozi, Abdu Basajabaka Kawalya; Musisi, Nakanyike; Sejjengo, James Mukooza (1994). The Social Origins of Violence in Uganda, 1964-1985, Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, ISBN 0-7735-1218-7
  29. ^ Phares Mukasa Mutibwa (1992), Uganda since independence: a story of unfulfilled hopes, C. Hurst & Co. United Kingdom, ISBN 1-85065-066-7
  30. ^ Arnold M. Ludwig, King of the Mountain: The Nature of Political Leadership, University of Kentucky Press, ISBN 978-0813122335, pp 182-187
  31. ^ Heba Saleh, Christians targeted in communal violence in Egypt The Financial Times (August 16, 2013)
  32. ^ B. L. Carter, The Copts in Egyptian Politics, ISBN 978-0415811248, Routledge, pp 272-279
  33. ^ Leifer, Michael (1964), Communal violence in Singapore, Asian Survey, Vol. 4, No. 10 (Oct., 1964), 1115-1121
  34. ^ Bayly, C. A. (1985), The Pre-history of Communalism? Religious Conflict in India 1700-1860, Modern Asian Studies, 19 (02), pp. 177-203
  35. ^ Baber, Z. (2004), Race, Religion and Riots: The 'Racialization' of Communal Identity and Conflict in India, Sociology, 38(4), pp. 701-718
  36. ^ Richard P. Cronin (1977), British Policy and Administration in Bengal, 1905-1912: Partition and the New Province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, ISBN 978-0836400007
  37. ^ DRAPER, A. (1981), Amritsar - The Massacre that Ended the Raj, Littlehampton, ISBN 978-0304304813
  38. ^ PANDEY, G. (1983),_in Editor: GUHA, R., 1983, Subaltern Studies II: Writings on South Asian History and Society, Delhi, Oxford University Press, pp. 60-129, ISBN 978-0195633658
  39. ^ BRISTOW, R.C.B. (1974), Memories of the British Raj: A Soldier in India, Johnson, ISBN 978-0853071327
  40. ^ PANDEY G. (1990), The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0198077305
  41. ^ Tambiah, S. J. (1990), Presidential address: reflections on communal violence in South Asia, The Journal of Asian Studies, 49(04), pp 741-760;
    • Vaughn, B. (2005, February), Islam in South and Southeast Asia. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, WASHINGTON DC, CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE (2005);
    • Baker & Hamilton (2006), The Iraq study group report, Random House, ISBN 978-0307386564;
    • Azra A. (2006), Indonesia, Islam, and democracy: Dynamics in a global context, Equinox Publishing, ISBN 978-9799988812, pp. 72-85
  42. ^ PREVENTION OF COMMUNAL AND TARGETED VIOLENCE (ACCESS TO JUSTICE AND REPARATIONS) BILL, 2011 Archived 2014-08-14 at the Wayback Machine Government of India
  43. ^ Social violence in Indonesia is localized Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine Jakarta Post
  44. ^ COUNTRY REPORT: KENYA - 2013 ACLED, Africa (2014)
  45. ^ Idean Salehyan et al, Social Conflict in Africa: A New Database, International Interactions: Empirical and Theoretical Research in International Relations, Volume 38, Issue 4, 2012
  46. ^ Colm Campbell (2011), 'Beyond Radicalization: Towards an Integrated Anti-Violence Rule of Law Strategy', Transitional Justice Institute Research Paper No. 11-05, in Salinas de Friás, KLH Samuel and ND White (eds), Counter-Terrorism: International Law and Practice (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2011)
  47. ^ Frances Stewart, Horizontal Inequalities and Conflict: Understanding Group Violence in Multiethnic Societies, ISBN 978-0230245501, Palgrave Macmillan
  48. ^ Kasara, Kimuli (June 2016). "Does Local Ethnic Segregation Lead to Violence?: Evidence from Kenya". Working Paper.
  49. ^ Schelling, Thomas (1971). "Dynamic Models of Segregation". Journal of Mathematical Sociology. 1 (2): 143-186. doi:10.1080/0022250x.1971.9989794.
  50. ^ Kasara, Kimuli (2016). "Does Local Ethnic Segregation Lead to Violence? Evidence from Kenya". Working Paper.
  51. ^ Pettigrew, Thomas (1998). "Intergroup Contact Theory". Annual Review of Psychology. 49: 65-85. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.49.1.65. PMID 15012467. S2CID 10722841.
  52. ^ Kasara, Kimuli (June 2016). "Does Local Ethnic Segregation Lead to Violence?: Evidence from Kenya". Working Paper.
  53. ^ A. R. M. Imtiyaz, Uyghurs: Chinesization, Violence and the Future, Temple University, IUP Journal of International Relations, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 18-38, Winter 2012
  54. ^ UCDP Non-State Conflict Dataset Archived 2015-01-22 at the Wayback Machine Sweden (May 2014)
  55. ^ French Civil Unrest Subsides The New York Times (2005)
  56. ^ Allen D. Grimshaw, A Social History of Racial Violence, ISBN 978-0-202-362632
  58. ^ Chris Wilson, Ethno-Religious Violence in Indonesia: From Soil to God, ISBN 978-0-415-453806

External links

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