Criminology of Genocide: Breaking Paths
Darfur and the Crime of Genocide by John Hagan and Wenona Rymond-Richmond is a path-breaking book. The paths it breaks lead us into new terrain, and toward new thickets to be opened up by future work. Here are some thoughts from the perspective of a sociologist who has dedicated most of his scholarship to issues of crime and punishment, and who had just completed a first draft of Crime and Human Rights: Criminology of Atrocities and Genocide (Sage 2010) when the Darfur book appeared.
First, Hagan and Rymond-Richmond’s book unequivocally brings the topic of genocide to criminology; and, it delivers a sociologically based criminology, its theories and methods, to the students of genocide. It seems unfathomable that the field of scholarship that has dedicated a good one hundred years to the systematic study of crime, crime control, and punishment has radically stayed (and been left) out of the study of the “crime of crimes.” While sociologists of science might explain this disconnect, the consequences are clear: a wealth of knowledge regarding the conditions and consequences of crime and crime control has been missed by human rights and genocide researchers.
Second, by introducing the issue of genocide, this book strengthens previous attempts by some critical criminologists such as Bill Chambliss, Stanley Cohen, and Austin Turk, to consider the state and its agents as potential criminal offenders. This notion is anything but new to genocide researchers, but it has not at all been taken seriously by an all too state-centered criminology, a field that thoroughly envisions the state as a bulwark against crime, but not as a perpetrator itself (we have elsewhere written about criminology’s state-centeredness). Criminology has given much credence to Thomas Hobbes’ notion that the mighty Leviathan may protect humans from each other. It found support in historical criminology that identified massive declines of violence and killing in civic life, paralleling the advent of the modern state. But criminology has neglected the fact that Leviathan may become the perpetrator himself, even while political scientists, historians and sociologists such as Raul Hilberg, Irving Louis Horowitz, and Zygmunt Bauman have pointed toward the devastation specifically modern states may bring upon humankind.
Third, the authors impressively link empirical social science with the jurisprudence of genocide. They dissect the legal definition of genocide, and they use the Atrocities Documentation Survey (ADS), a large scale victimization survey initiated by the U.S. State Department and conducted in the refugee camps of Chad in 2004, to prove that the criteria of genocide are fulfilled. Members of a group are being killed and serious bodily and mental harm is inflicted on them; conditions of life are deliberately inflicted on them, calculated to bring about their physical destruction; all this is done, with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, an ethnic or racial group. The killing and the harm inflicted are massive in Darfur and are clearly documented by the data analysis. The major challenge is the delivery of empirical proof of the intent to destroy a racial and ethnic group. And here Hagan & Rymond-Richmond provide impressive evidence through their statistical analysis of the times when and places where racial epithets are used, and the links between such epithets and the intensity of killings and rapes. (The authors throughout communicate the immense and unbearable pain encapsulated in the statistical numbers by letting us hear the victims’ voices through interview excerpts.) While this website shows that the debate about the applicability of the genocide label continues, Hagan & Rymond-Richmond mobilize all that empirical scholarship can do to provide the evidence. In general, the introduction of systematic statistical analyses appears crucial where complex patterns of offending are to be documented, a condition that always applies in cases of genocide.
Fourth, Hagan & Rymond-Richmond show how criminological thought can be enriched by the incorporation of a critical collective framing approach to conceptualize perpetrators and their intent at micro- and macro-analytical levels, creatively adapting sociologist James Coleman’s model. Precipitating conditions and actions of genocide move from (1) the macro-sociological level (land competition and supremacist ideology) that result in socially constructed Arab versus Black identities and thereby provide a vocabulary of motives and neutralization; to (2) the micro-level where individualized racial intent is documented among field commanders with high levels of “social efficacy” (Ross Matsueda) and ties to (and support from) the Sudanese government; and, via (3) frenzied collective action to collectivized racial intent at the meso-level, back to (4) the macro-level with patterns of a genocidal state as an endogenous system (i.e., not explained by long-standing hatred or defensive reaction to insurgency) and genocidal victimization.
These path-breaking innovations lead us to further terrain with old and new challenges:
First, while data analysis based on socio-political theory identifies specific individuals and courses of collective action, and thereby perpetrators to be charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and/or genocide, many actors are neither mentioned, nor do we learn how they should become subject to criminal proceedings or other transitional justice responses. How will the ICC or other institutional responses address the offenses committed by thousands of members of militias and the military? Other actors are left out of the account: common bystanders, international businesses and foreign governments with economic interests in the Sudan who keep supporting the al-Bashir government.
Second, at the macro-level, how is the genocidal state to be addressed through judicial action or other mechanisms? Who exactly represents the state? What responses lead beyond the state’s genocidal nature?
Third, what historic memory of the crimes will ICC proceedings forge? Political scientist Kathryn Sikkink has recently identified positive links between criminal justice responses to grave human rights violations and later positive human rights records of a country, further strengthened by adding truth commissions to trials. Collective memory of atrocities, fostered by both mechanisms, is likely to play a crucial causal role in this link (“Law and Collective Memory” in Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 2007).
Fourth, moving toward a comparative study of genocide, how can we apply the concepts and mechanisms Hagan & Rymond-Richmond identify to other cases? The sociological-criminological literature built into this theory should be fruitfully linked with a wealth of conceptual and analytical insights from previous analyses of genocide, especially historical studies. Yet, considerable translation issues must be overcome first.
Fifth, how can we get beyond a situation where international asymmetries of power are at risk of affecting not just the practice of international criminal justice (e.g., U.S. “bilateral immunity agreements”), but also the analysis of grave human rights violations by journalists, human rights groups, and scholars? How can we move toward a situation where the collection of systematic evidence, here by way of the ADS, is not left to the whim of a state department (foreign ministry) of a wealthy country, but where systematic empirical information is collected wherever grave human rights violations occur? Many countries have research units and funding agencies associated with their science foundations and/or ministries of justice/interior. Developing similar programs dedicated to the systematic study of genocide and other grave human rights violations, associated with relevant units of international governmental or civil society organizations, may be a step in the right direction.