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January 17, 2013


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Patrick S. O'Donnell


Would you agree with the characterization of some prison camps and perhaps even the labor camps established by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the second half of the 1970s as "concentration camps." Similarly, what about several of the "prisons" established during the Kosovo War that have been described as concentration camps?

Eric Muller

Patrick, this is not a dodge: I would want to know more about them.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

I should have said the "Yugoslav Wars" as the Kosovo War was, strictly speaking, only one of the wars during this period (in the 1990s after the breakup of Yugoslavia). To cite one example: "The Trnopolje camp was a prisoners camp established by Bosnian Serb military and police authorities in the village of Trnopolje near the city of Prijedor in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina in the first months of the Bosnian War. The camp kept a large a number of Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats, some of which were killed, raped, mistreated, and tortured. It also served 'as a staging area for massive deportations of primarily women, children, and elderly men.'"

The "Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts to the Security Council (the Bassiouni Commission Report) determined that 'Logor Trnopolje' was 'a concentration camp,' functioning as a staging area for mass deportations mainly of women, children, and elderly men, and described the Omarska and Keraterm camps to which the adult non-Serb men were taken as death camps."

I found this piece helpful:

As for the Khmer Rouge, and provided we do not see the architecture of Nazi concentration camps as normatively definitive but are rather concerned in the first place with the nature of the camps with regard to what happens (or happened) to their occupants, then Security Prison 21 (formerly a high school) should exemplify what we mean by a concentration camp (although much of the killing took place outside the prison proper in the "killing fields":


It's an interesting discussion, Eric. I was a bit surprised to see no mention of the concentration camps set up by the British, to hold Boer women and children, during the Boer war, as it had been my understanding that this was where the term entered the English language. (I can't say I'm certain that that's right.) Those camps seem closer, to my mind, to the camps used to hold the Japanese in the US than to Nazi death camps. I do suppose that very few people who use the term these days have British camps set up during the Boer war in mind, so perhaps this isn't relevant any longer, especially given the modern connotations, but it seems to me like one more point to consider.

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