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Internment is the imprisonment or confinement of people, commonly in large groups, without trial. The Oxford English Dictionary (1989) gives the meaning as: "The action of ‘interning’; confinement within the limits of a country or place". Most modern usage is about individuals, and there is a distinction between internment, which is being confined usually for preventive or political reasons, and imprisonment, which is being closely confined as a punishment for crime.

"Internment" also refers to the practice of neutral countries in time of war in detaining belligerent armed forces and equipment in their territories under the Second Hague Convention.

Early civilizations such as the Assyrians used forced resettlement of populations as a means of controlling territory, but it was not until much later in the late 19th and the 20th centuries that records exist of groups of civilian non-combatants being concentrated into large prison camps.

Internment camps

An internment camp is a large detention center created for political opponents, enemy aliens, people with mental illness, specific ethnic or religious groups, civilians of a critical war-zone, or other groups of people, usually during a war. The term is used for facilities where inmates are selected according to some specific criteria, rather than individuals who are incarcerated after due process of law fairly applied by a judiciary.

As a result of the mistreatment of civilians interned during recent conflicts, the Fourth Geneva Convention was established in 1949 to provide for the protection of civilians during times of war "in the hands" of an enemy and under any occupation by a foreign power. It was ratified by 194 nations. Prisoner-of-war camps are internment camps intended specifically for holding members of an enemy's armed forces as defined in the Third Geneva Convention, and the treatment of whom is specified in that Convention.

Concentration camps

The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. defines concentration camp as: a camp where non-combatants of a district are accommodated, such as those instituted by Lord Kitchener during the South African war of 1899-1902; one for the internment of political prisoners, foreign nationals, etc., esp. as organized by the Nazi regime in Germany before and during the war of 1939-45. Literally, a Concentration Camp is a place where enemies, perceived undesirables and others are "concentrated", or all placed together, in one controlled environment, usually very unpleasantly.

Similar camps existed earlier, such as in the United Statesmarker (concentration camps for Cherokee and other Native American in the 1830s), in Cubamarker (1868–78) and in the Philippinesmarker (1898–1901) by Spain under the Restoration and the USmarker respectively. The term finds its roots in the "reconcentration camps" set up in Cuba by Valeriano Weyler in 1897 to quell opposition to Spanish rule in Cuba. During the Second Boer War (1899-1902), the term "concentration camp" was used to describe camps operated by the Britishmarker in South Africa. Ostensibly conceived as a form of humanitarian aid to the families whose farms had been destroyed in the fighting, the camps were used to confine and control large numbers of civilians as part of a scorched earth tactic.

Polish historian Władysław Konopczyński has suggested the first concentration camps were actually created in the 18th century, during Bar Confederation, when Russiansmarker organized 3 concentration camps in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for Polish rebel captives, where internees awaited deportation on to Siberiamarker.

Use of the word concentration comes from the idea of concentrating a group of people who are in some way undesirable in one place, where they can be watched by those who incarcerated them. For example, in a time of insurgency, potential supporters of the insurgents are placed where they cannot provide them with supplies or information.

Nazi and Soviet camps

In the 20th century the arbitrary internment of civilians by the state became more common and reached a climax with Nazi concentration camps (1933-1945) and the practice of forced labor camp (1918-1991) (nominally, the Gulag (1929-1960)) of the Soviet Unionmarker. As a result of this trend, the term "concentration camp" carries many of the connotations of "extermination camp" and is sometimes used synonymously. A concentration camp, however, is not by definition a death-camp. For example, many of the slave labor camps were used as free sources of factory labor for the manufacture of war materials and other goods.

Because of these negative connotations, the term "concentration camp", originally itself a euphemism, has been replaced by newer euphemisms such as internment camp, resettlement camp, detention facility, etc., regardless of the actual circumstances of the camp, which can vary a great deal.

List of camps

See also


  1. per Oxford Universal Dictionary, 1st edition 1933.
  2. The Second Hague Convention, 1907
  3. Laws of Hammurabi
  4. Full text of 4th Geneva Convention
  5. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-07.
  6. Documents re camps in Boer War
  7. Władysław Konopczyński, Konfederacja barska, t. II, Warszawa 1991, pp. 733-734.
  8. documents relative to Gulag

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