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.
The author of this fine review makes a good point about Leviathan itself as posing the potential for genocidal behavior. Indeed, I tred tio correct my own oversight in Taking Lives in a 1999 wirk on Behemoth by dealomg with this – albeit not nearly as succinctly as this review by Professor Savelsberg. ILH
Joachim Savelsberg has a well deserved reputation for enlivening professional meetings as well as our leading journals with the questions he raises about the study of crime and human rights. Savelsberg has taught for several decades at the University of Minnesota with a international perspective that more broadly reflects his early life in post-war Germany as well as his academic career in the United States. His new book on â€œCrime and Human Rightsâ€ is eagerly awaited by an international audience that appreciates his critique of a state-centric criminology that â€œenvisions the state as a bulwark against crime, but not as a perpetrator itself.â€ Savelsberg reminds us that some of the most challenging voices of 20th century criminology – Bill Chambliss, Stan Cohen, and Austin Turk – made this insight central to their work, yet their challenge to develop a strong tradition of research on state crime been inadequately heeded.
Savelsberg raises anew these kinds of challenges and adds a number of his own in suggesting that far more needs to be done than we alone can certainly accomplish in our book on Darfur – an analysis using a critical collective framing perspective on the Atrocities Documentation Survey conducted by the Coalition of International Justice for the U.S. State Department as well as other sources. By looking at one state and its genocidal victimization by killing, raping, displacing and destroying groups of black Africans in Darfur, we have tried to develop a detailed understanding of a particular context and then to explore the implications for the broader understanding of these kinds of state crimes more generally. Yet our contribution is inevitably small compared to the enormity of the kind of state crimes we need to understand and hopefully reduce. Savelsberg concludes his commentary by making a very concrete proposal of where important work can be directed next.
His proposal begins by noting that many countries have research units and funding agencies associated with their science foundations and/or ministries of justice/interior. But these sources fund little research on state-led war crimes. Savelsbergâ€™s point is that NGOs who have done such important investigative reporting of war crimes can never provide the systematic scale and detail of research that is required to reveal and respond to human rights crimes around the world. Yet the U.S. State Departmentâ€™s Atrocities Documentation Survey that provided a unique data source for our analysis of a genocide in progress in Darfur need not be a singular data collection event. Savelsberg urges that developing programs dedicated to the systematic study of genocide and other grave human rights violations, associated with relevant units of governmental and civil society organizations, is a larger and very achievable goal. We have a new President and Administration in Washington that has promised to improve the U.S. record on human rights. During the Clinton Administration, the Department of Justice sent thirty experienced prosecutors and invested hundreds of millions of dollars to help kick-start the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. There is every reason why the Department of Justice and the State Department should make similar investments in research documenting war crimes and acting as an early warning system throughout the world. The U.S. State Department sponsorship of the Atrocities Documentation Survey can become the rule rather than the exception.
On June 16, 17 and 18 the American Bar Foundationâ€™s [ABF] Center on Law & Globalization is sponsoring a conference in The Hague featuring research on state-led sexual violence as a war crime in several international conflict zones. The purpose of the conference is to stimulate war crimes research of the kind Savelsberg describes by attracting the attention of governments, and engaging the prosecutors of the international tribunals and courts in The Hague, focusing their attention on the contribution that this kind of research can make in responding to war crimes – warning about them as they evolve as well as after they happen. The U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has agreed to be the keynote speaker and further details can be found on the ABFâ€™s Law & Globalization website. Our point is that Savelesbergâ€™s challenge can be met and advanced.
Congratulations to both Joachim Savelsberg and John Hagan on their excellent contributions to literature connecting criminology and human rights! I am so glad the scant amount of literature on this subject is being expanded by such wonderful scholars! Papa, I can’t wait for your book to come out!
You raised, and rightly so, many fundamental questions. However, we need to focus only on those that will help Dafur and Sudan march toward civility, genuine democracy, fairness, justice and peace where law and order are not only respected but fully obeyed. A referral to the post-war trials in Sierra Leone may help us navigate the Sudanese issue, even if it doesn’t necessarily proffer answers to all the questions you candidly raised. But it is a good starting point, a sure way to keep our eyes on the ball in this playing field called Sudan.
Also – perhaps of interest – is a Special Issue of the journal International Criminal Justice Review focused exclusively on the crime of genocide.