Posted by jim in on Sep 29th 2016 | 0 comment(s)

The law on genocide protects the national, ethnical, racial and religious group, as such, from their destruction. The protected groups seemingly are part of the crime’s actus reus and mens rea, since they appear both in the provision’s chapeau as well as in each of the enumerated prohibited acts (Art. 2 lit. a-e Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, hereafter: Genocide Convention). Notably, there is no recognized legal definition of race. Jurisprudence and scholarly writing are incoherent and unclear in their approach to the concept of race, which results in a risk of inconclusive protection for the victims of mass atrocities.

The judgments of the two ad hoc international criminal tribunals cautiously refined the definition of a racial group. Simultaneously, hardly any matter is as disputed as race itself; its taboo and contentiousness do not contribute to clarifying its contours. There is a discernible trend towards a subjective definition of the victim groups of genocide, including the racial group. According to a subjective approach, the perpetrator – possibly also the victim group itself – defines the victims’ differentness. The group is thereby created through a person’s perception. In increasingly relying on a subjective approach, the significance of an objective approach is gradually weakened, albeit not fully removed. A consequence of an augmented reliance on the subjective approach to defining the victim groups of genocide is that, theoretically, groups that only exist in the mind of the perpetrator could fall under the protection of the law of genocide. If the perpetrator’s imagination alone defines the group, the principle of legality and its elements of foreseeability and specificity might be breached by broadening the protection beyond the four exhaustive categories of ethnical, racial, religious and national groups. In other words, a subjective approach challenges the principle of legality.

According to the principle of effectiveness, no word of a treaty can be left out and each term has its own legal significance. Both the above-mentioned principle of legality and the principle of effectiveness are general principles of law and as such sources of law according to Art. 38 (1)(c) ICJ Statute. The principle of effectiveness has been widely recognized as a guiding principle in the interpretation of law. If race is ignored, not only is the principle of effectiveness hindered, but the chances for a successful prosecution of the crime of genocide are reduced by 25%, because – in effect – one of four exhaustive groups is removed. Instead of shying away from defining race because of its controversy, it should be defined effectively and, most importantly, contemporaneously.

Historically, race developed to adapt a biological meaning based on innate, inherited and visible physical traits. Nowadays, however, race is seen as a social concept, based on the perception of a group’s differentness and irrespective of factual differences. The international judiciary begun to deal with race in the first ever genocide trial in 1998, when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in the case of Akayesu defined a racial group as “based on hereditary physical traits often identified with a geographical region” (The Prosecutor v. Akayesu, Case No. ICTR-96-4-T, Judgment, 2 September 1998, para. 514).   In relying on physical traits, the ICTR objectively defined race. This approach is not unexpected. If race is part of the actus reus (objective elements), courts will attempt to define it objectively. Unfortunately, an objective definition of race will inevitably lead to reverting to outdated conceptions. It is scientifically, morally and ethically incorrect to speak of distinct human races; there is no DNA for race. However, if race is viewed as part of the mens rea only, it can be defined subjectively, taking into account the perpetrator’s perception of the victim group. In perceiving his victims as members of a racial group and attacking them for their membership, the legal approach to race becomes coherent with the contemporary understanding of race as the perception of a person’s differentness. Such a subjective approach conforms to an evolutionary interpretation: the concept of race has developed since 1948 when the Genocide Convention was adopted. In the aftermath of the Holocaust there was no discussion on what race signified. For example it was undisputed that Jews and Poles were distinct racial groups. Surprisingly there was no discussion on race when the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was drafted. Reason for this omission was the customary status of the prohibition of genocide, as articulated in Art. 2 Genocide Convention, which was incorporated into the Rome Statute.

Furthermore, a subjective definition of race is coherent with the structure of genocide as an intent-based crime. Unlike any other crime, genocide requires a special intent, the dolus specialis, to destroy a group. This intent is based on the perpetrator’s perception of the victims as inferior to his own group. The perpetrator identifies, singles out, dehumanizes and aims at destroying the group. The victims become the ‘others’ as opposed to the ‘us’. This process of ‘othering’ is inherent to any genocide, and inferiorization and dehumanization are observable in all past genocides.

By gradual formation the targeted group acquires discernible contours, notwithstanding any prior objective existence. Founded on stigmatization and prejudice, the perpetrator’s perception of the group becomes the singular defining element and shapes the victim group. Even though the group might not be real, it is treated as real. Due to labelling that has been applied to it over a longer period of time, the group eventually considers itself as real too.

The perpetrator's perception and his intent to destroy the victim group are manifested in his behavior.  As such, his understanding of the victim group and the subjective definition of the racial group become an issue of proof.  The prosecution will, instead of trying to objectively prove the existence of a racial group, have to prove the perpetrator's perception, which is reflected in his pre-genocidal behavior.  In sum, the racial group will gain increased importance in the prosecution of perpetrators of mass atrocities if it is released from the actus reus and instead fully integrated into the mens rea.

Carola Lingaas

PhD fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Oslo (Norway)


Author note: Carola Lingaas is a PhD candidate at the University of Oslo (Norway). Her research explores the concept of race in international criminal law, with a particular focus on the crime of genocide. After obtaining a Master of Law degree at the University of Zürich (Switzerland), she worked at the Public Prosecutor's Office, the District Court and a law firm. She then joined the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), where she worked as a field delegate (2002-2003) in South Sudan during the second civil war. She completed an LL.M. in Public International Law at the University of Oslo in 2005. From 2006-2013, Carola worked for the Norwegian Red Cross.

Posted by jim in on Jun 22nd 2016 | 0 comment(s)

Scott Straus would like to announce the publication of his new book, Fundamentals of Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, which was published earlier this year by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The book aims to provide a concise introduction to the field of genocide/atrocity studies and prevention. The book covers the history of genocide prevention, the causal dynamics of genocide, the tools of genocide prevention, and the aftermath of genocide. The volume is designed to be accessible to undergraduates, as well as to policymakers, those working for NGOs, and citizens interested in the topic but without an extensive background in genocide studies. In addition to taking stock of the field, the book highlights gaps in knowledge and areas for future research.

Hard copies or Kindle versions are available for purchase at amazon.com.  The volume also may be downloaded for free at https://www.ushmm.org/confront-genocide/take-action-against-genocide/resources/fundamentals-of-genocide-and-mass-atrocity-prevention. You can find out more information about the book at this site as well.

Scott Straus is a Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (USA), where he also serves as Director of Graduate Studies in the Political Science Department. Prior to Fundamentals, his most recent book was Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa (Cornell University Press, 2015), which recently won the International Studies Association’s best book award in human rights. He has also published several books and articles on Rwanda. At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he teaches courses on human rights, genocide, political violence, African Politics, international studies, and research design. You can find out more about him and his research here: https://faculty.polisci.wisc.edu/sstraus/.

Posted by jim in on May 29th 2016 | 0 comment(s)

Randall Fegley recently joined IAGS.  He is a political historian at Pennsylvania State University’s Berks College. Professor Fegley specializes in the study of mass trauma, especially long-term conflicts, gross human rights violations and prolonged disasters in Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Uganda, South Sudan and Sudan. He lived, taught and completed Ph.D. research in Sudan from 1980 to 1984 and has returned to work there and in other African countries numerous times. In November 2003, he received Penn State Berks’ Beaver Community Service Award for restoring schools in war-torn Kajo Keji County as part of a program of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem. He has been particularly active in the Sudan Studies Association, the leading scholarly organization on Sudan. Host of the SSA’s 22nd annual conference in May 2002 and a member of the association’s board from 2003 to 2007, he has also served as the organization’s president and executive director. As the coordinator of Penn State’s four-year degree program in Global Studies, he set up an internship program in Rwanda. His latest book is available in hardback and electronic formats at https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781498519441/A-History-of-Rwandan-Identity-and-Trauma-The-Mythmakers'-Victims. His other published works have examined Rwandan, Sudanese, Belgian and Equatorial Guinean political history, the mythologies that perpetuate conflict; elections and governance in post-trauma societies; and the rehabilitation of former slaves and child soldiers. He and his wife Connie live in Pennsylvania.


His book,   A History of Rwandan Identity and Trauma: The Mythmakers' Victims, was published by Rowman and Littlefield in March of this year.   The book’s introduction reviews literature on the concepts of myth and trauma; then introduces basic information on Rwanda and how it has been viewed by the outside world. Chapter One describes early Rwanda’s political and cultural development, traditional narratives, group migrations, the effects of German and later Belgian colonialism and the introduction of Christianity. It concludes with a look at how this early history has been interpreted and reinterpreted. The second chapter discusses the end of Tutsi dominance and the 1959 Hutu Revolution. It details Hutu Power ideology, Belgian domestic politics, early acts of genocide, refugee movements and economic and political stagnation. The text documents the development of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, its 1990 invasion and the Arusha peace process. An account of the 1994 genocide follows. However, as this has been covered in numerous other works, descriptions are limited to key events and general patterns. The chapter ends with a review of films, books and other publications that brought Rwanda’s plight to a worldwide audience, but have also created new myths. Chapter Three examines the country’s post-genocide reconstruction and attempts to bring justice and reconciliation through the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Tanzania and gacaca courts domestically. Rwanda’s impressive record of economic progress over the last two decades is detailed. However, prospects for democracy have diminished, as its leaders have become increasingly sensitive to criticism and fearful of renewed divisions. Descriptions of the process of developing school curriculums to explain past atrocities, the new myths it created and their possible consequences comprises most of Chapter Four. The final chapter offers conclusions on the effects of past mythologies and the trauma they have wrought. It draws comparisons with other divided societies and their approaches to dealing with the past. These include Burundi, Ethiopia, South Africa, the United States, Taiwan, Canada, Belgium, Switzerland and Singapore. An extensive bibliography of books, theses, conference papers, official documents, articles, periodicals, journals, films, websites, other media and interviews includes translations of titles in Kinyarwanda, French, Dutch and German.

Posted by jim in on Mar 27th 2016 | 0 comment(s)

Editor's note:  All material on IAGS blog is solely the opinion of the authors and does not necessarily represent the views of the International Association of Genocide Scholars or the editors of the blog. If you would like to respond to this post submit your response to [email protected].  

The transformation of a seemingly normal human being

Karadzic was born on June 19, 1945 only a month after WWII officially ended but acts of deadly atrocities against the Croatian Ustasha and German allies were still in full swing.  Reprisals against his father for fighting with the Chetniks were moderated by his work for the Communist Partisans who took command and formed Yugoslavia.  In wartime Croatia, whose boundaries included the Bosnia and Sarajevo that was the locus of Karadzic’s genocide, a different genocide took place, one where, as best we can objectively tell, more than 100,000 Serbs were killed by Croats in a concentration camp, Jasenovac, alongside the Holocaust of 10,000 to 14,000 Croatian Jews.  Roughly equal numbers of Serbs were expelled from Croatia at the same time and as were forced to convert to Catholicism.  It is likely that Karadzic knew this racist history well from a familial recounting and he referred to it several times in his trial as evidence of the enduring racist hostility of the Croats and Bosniaks who were their allies in WWII, against his brethren Serbs, but it seems clear that Karadzic was not motivated exclusively by personal gain in power, prestige, or money; and truly had the best interests of his narrowly defined Serbian community at heart.  In other words, he seems to have been mostly motivated by a generous communitarian impulse, but somehow that empathetic feeling of humanity did not extend to his compatriots in Bosnia, the Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks.  Yet, it is too simple to argue that this was and remains a religious divide, although religion is truly one of the strongest communitarian bonds.  He was smart, a poet, well-adjusted, with a family, and for many years followed a normal intellectual career.  How could he become the architect and leader of a genocide?

The notion that the Serbs are a holy ‘race’ with a historical destiny

A key characteristic that can help explain this transformation can be found in his enduring narcissistic mysticism.  Karadzic claimed at his trial in 2010 to be a well-known literary giant, Vuk Karadzic’s, blood relative, as if that gave him superior moral rights.  He also held that Montenegrins like him were a kind of “super-Serb”. This is a kind of racist view that compares directly to the Nazis’ ingrained belief in their superiority as a ‘race’ to the rest of the world. His poetry too was mystically cryptic with visions of forces beyond human rationality.  Specifically, Serbs were all connected with a bond that emerged in the mythical past.  This view of a Serbian ‘race’ with its echoes of Nazi heathenism formed the basis for his atrocities.   Karadzic himself provided as his defence the racist view that there were strong national bonds between the Bosnian Serbs and the former Yugoslavia, which had become reduced to greater Serbia, justified his actions and gave him a superior moral stance to the Croats and Bosniaks who were unfaithful to Yugoslavia and deserted/seceded from the union.  To him, this made it a just and holy cause to conduct a civil war against these renegades.   For him the Serbs were a ‘nation’/narod, whatever that means (think Nazi ‘Volk’ or ‘race’.)  I cannot bring myself to delve into the racist views that this implies, to try to understand them: it would mean going against my own beliefs too deeply.  But it seems, from listening to him and his testimonies throughout this lengthy trial that he truly believes that the Serbs are a holy ‘race’ and narcissistically believes that their destiny is superior to the others.  In fact, he suggests that the Bosniaks too are Serbs, and that only the best of them comes out when they are Serbs, as they were 500 years ago (that is to say before the Ottoman conquest of the region). This racist view of a Balkan ‘race’ colours his judgment intimately and was undoubtedly pre-existent before the civil war broke out.  Under the cover of war its worst attributes resulted in atrocities beyond our imagination, although they are all too common in genocides, just as WWII was deeply intertwined with the death camps of the Holocaust.  How racism and war interact to turn normal human beings into primeval beasts remains as much a mystery as ever.

It is alarming to note that so much evidence does not do much by way of advancing our understanding

As scholars, I think we can take little comfort in this conviction, unless it leads to better understanding of how a perfectly normal human being can be radically transformed, who from the outset appears truly to want peace but then is somehow corrupted into condoning and perhaps even ordering wanton atrocities against civilians.  The trial unfortunately, with its antagonistic format and high stakes, is no place for understanding to be developed, no more than a concentration camp is a fit place to learn ethics,  and the statements of the prosecutors and defence must all be taken circumspectly within the context of this competitive environment, but it seems clear that Karadzic was not motivated exclusively by personal gain in power, prestige, or money; and truly had the best interests of his narrowly defined community at heart.  So, in spite of hundreds of witnesses and perhaps 50,000 pages of documentation, what have we learned? If it is only that there is a banality to evil, that can integrate itself into the most democratic of procedures; then we have learned nothing because the concept of evil will never lead us to an understanding of these events.  Not that it is just subjective and indifferent to scientific standards, but it is not a theoretical framework that can encompass these events and on which we can hang empirical hypotheses. So we must agree on a standard that is plausible and more secure.  We are dealing with human motivation and changing identity, and so it is within psychology that a framework might be found.  Not in the racist and mystical folk psychology that motivated Karadzic into this atrocious genocide but a different psychology based on empirical research with hypotheses and experimental control groups.  We may still be far from such a theoretical framework, but some directions are clear.

Evolutionary psychology

Chimpanzees and bonobos are very much like us, about 90% or more similar in genetic components; and they offer perspective on our predilections for empathy and xenophobia.  Chimps too show empathy: the old and sick are comforted, as are the young and helpless.  There are many examples like the following: An elderly chimp suffering from bone and muscular degeneration is helped on her way to get water to drink by younger chimps who run ahead and return with mouthfuls of water.  Chimps also form hierarchical social groups with fixed territories.  When food sources are scarce, they may attack neighbouring groups to expand their territory, and even kill to eat their victims.  So, xenophobia and outgroup dehumanization are not unique to us.  Chimps of course will not engage in alliances to make the fight fair and roughly equal the way traditional human societies carefully arrange to reduce carnage and deaths, but modern warfare has made this traditional pattern irrelevant, and these alliances just increase fatalities and destruction.  The Bosnian Serbs were a minority in the beginning, with only two-thirds of the Bosniak manpower, but they got help from Milosevic’s thugs to create the context for Srebrenica.  The Bosniaks in turn sought alliances for stronger help to weaken this assistance.

So how do we counteract these fatal impulses for revenge and racist hatred, and augment the motives to help and provide succour?  It seems to me, only by confronting the truth about ourselves with greater understanding.  Above all to recognize that our best attribute, the one that makes us enjoy the comfort of communal identity and togetherness, that motivates us to fight for our kith and kin and country, is not an unadulterated good, but contains within it the intolerance of others that drives ethnic cleansing and genocide.  This Janus-like duality of good and bad intertwined in all our beliefs can perhaps best be controlled if we can overcome our bias of thinking that communal impulses are only good, and begin to understand the dangers of community and the protections of diversity.

Joe Ptoska, Ph.D

Retired Research Psychologist, U. S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioural and Social Sciences

Posted by jim in on Mar 7th 2016 | 0 comment(s)

I am pleased to announce the re-launching of the IAGS blog.  The blog is intended as an important venue for sharing information, viewpoints, and insights concerning genocide and related crimes against humanity.   As a community of scholars, jurists, practitioners, and students it is important to engage in sustained dialogue as we seek a deeper understanding of genocides both past and present, and at the same time explore strategies for genocide prevention.

Topics might include recent scholarship in the field of genocide studies, or news of developments in areas where genocidal violence is occurring.  As the number of memorials and other sites of memory continue to grow, the blog can also serve as a space to share information and commentary about those sites. The blog can serve as a space for commentary on conferences recently attended or other events relating to genocide and mass violence.  The blog is also an ideal platform for bringing to the attention of members films and recent studies.  I, along with other scholars, am working on how genocides are framed and reported in the media; it would be useful to hear from others who share this interest.

Contributions are encouraged from all members.  Contributions from students are especially welcome.  Contributions from non-members will be considered as well.

As the new blog administrator I will be working with a team actively soliciting posts from members and hope to be posting your commentary in a timely fashion and on a regular basis.  Please send your posts to me at [email protected]. And please include a brief bio that I can include along with your post.

Guidelines for submitting posts are available at http://www.genocidescholars.org/news/iags-blog-rules.  


James Snow Ph.D.

 Loyola University Maryland