I posted a question about how population transfers had been used to resolve wars, citing examples in Czechoslovakia, Finland and India, and the choice of nations not to go that route in the Arab-Israel conflict. A distinguished scholar had called the lack of population transfer to resolve the latter conflict unprecedented. I asked whether it truly is. That set off a firestorm I had not intended. But one interesting point was made that leads to a more fascinating issue -- if population transfer is a war crime, then, arguably, the resettlement of refugees to end a conflict, as was done in India/Pakistan, and more recently in the former Yugoslavia, as well as following several African tribal and ethnic wars, would be a war crime, too. Moreover, the Saudi Arabian proposal for peace in Palestine, as well as the aborted proposal at Camp David at the end of Clinton's administration, which would have forced Jews to leave their home, would also be war crimes. Is the alternative to keep refugees in camps until they have a home to get back to? Do we force Suni and Shiite neighbors who have been fighting tooth and nail with each other in Iraq to live together whether they like it or not, and whether their countries borders are redrawn creating a situation where they would be forced to live in a hostile environment. Would the UN and warring nations be barred from redrawing their maps to say "this side is for people of the X and that side is people of the Y" and de facto establishing incentives for the residents to leave homes they and descendants have lived in all of their lives.

Then it gets interesting when you ask, "how do we determine who are the people who cannot be forced to move?" Whose law would be used to determine this? Squatters rights means one thing in western society and is quite different under Islamic law. And finally, you have the touchy issue of the occupation by a nation of land that did not belong to anyone officially.

Easily, there is a Ph.d disertation here and certainly a good opinion question. But I have no idea if there is an appropriate question for this forum that can be brought out that my illuminate the issues I've raised above, and which I had hope to illuminate in my original quetion.

I'm open to ideas. If there are none, then I suggest that my original question be deleted.

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    (1) Ethnic cleansing did not "resolve" the Second World War. Ethnic cleansing happened after WW2 was resolved in the Allies' favour. This whole premise is ridiculous. (2) Settling refugees is fundamentally different from ethnic cleansing. (3) Did you not notice the war crime trials for Yugoslavia and Africa? (4) If you don't want to be "misunderstood", try refraining from veering off into heavily loaded political tirades so quickly and obviously. (5) If you don't understand the international law involved, ask in an appropriate forum; but really, the language used is not hard.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 19:36
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    I think this is an interesting issue that you've raised, but in it's current formulation the question seems very open to answers that go beyond history.
    – ihtkwot
    Commented Jul 19, 2014 at 17:45

1 Answer 1


if population transfer is a war crime, then, arguably, the resettlement of refugees to end a conflict, as was done in India/Pakistan, and more recently in the former Yugoslavia, as well as following several African tribal and ethnic wars, would be a war crime, too.

I'm going to try to outline the elements of the question that make me nervous, and then try to find ways to address those misgivings.

  1. I think what you have is a question about international law, not a question about history. I'm not sure that historical sources and methods would be able to answer whether X is a crime, let alone reason about what hypothetical answer might be a crime. It might be possible to ask, "What grounds have been used in the past to determine that specific re settlements violate or conform to international law?" That way we're not trying to decide a question about international law, we're consulting sources to determine if there is an internationally recognized principle or method to reach a determination.

  2. This question borders on speculation - "If .. arguably... would be" Those words all cause my downvote finger to twitch. The scope suggestions of H:SE discourage speculation and hypotheticals. I'm not entirely sure how to resolve this - I don't know what the question would look like if the speculation were removed. It might be that "What are the criteria used to determine whether a forced resettlement is legal or not?"

  3. I think there is an assumption about the nature of crime. If I take your house, that is a crime. If the government takes your house, that is eminent domain and it is entirely legal. If I force you and your family to resettle, that is a criminal act; if the government forces you to do so, that is a legal act, and any attempt to resist that is illegal. The situation you describe is a bit more complex because there is no world government (despite the fears of the wingnuts and the ardent desires of the fruitloops). But if the resettlement is carried out as an attempt by the international community to resolve a dispute, then the action is arguably legal. Of course I've use the word arguably (see prior paragraph) and legal (see first paragraph). Again, I think the H:SE question probably runs something along the lines of "What criteria has the international community historically accepted to determine whether a forced resettlement is legal?

I suspect the ultimate answer is the Mandate of Heaven - the very pragmatic method of "if it results in good rule, then it must have been the right choice; if it results in chaos and disorder, then obviously it was illegal."

Not sure that helps, but I thought your question was good enough that it deserved an attempt at an answer.


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