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Article

Brooke B. Chambers and Joachim J. Savelsberg

Genocide and ethnic cleansing are among the most deadly human-made catastrophes. Together with other forms of government violence, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, the death toll they caused during the 20th century alone approximates 200 million. This is an estimated ten times higher than the number of deaths resulting from all violence committed in civil society during the same period. Yet the definition of genocide, its perception as a social problem, and the designation of responsible actors as criminals are all relatively recent. Globalization, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and cultural shifts are interrelated contributors to this process of redefinition. While genocide and ethnic cleansing often appear to be unpredictable and chaotic, they nonetheless underlie a socio-logic across time and space. As the field of study evolved, scholars debated the role of authority and ideology in enabling violence. Today, consensus has shifted away from deterministic explanations about intrinsic hatred engrained in particular groups to sociological factors. They include the role of political regimes, war, organization, and narratives of ethnic hatred, each of which can play a role in facilitating violence. Recent developments also include the creation of new institutional mechanisms that seek to punish perpetrators and prevent the occurrence of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Among them are criminal justice responses that work potentially through deterrence, but also—more fundamentally—through the initiation of cultural change. Prosecutions, as well as supplemental mechanisms such as truth commissions, may indeed lead to a radical shift in the perception of mass violence and those responsible for it, thereby delegitimizing genocidal and ethnic cleansing campaigns.

Article

Joachim J. Savelsberg and Suzy McElrath

Structural and cultural changes in the modernization process, combined with contingent historical events, gave rise to a human rights regime. It is codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promulgated after World War II and the Holocaust. Yet, only the gravest of human rights violations have been criminalized. First steps were taken beginning in the 19th century with The Hague and Geneva Conventions, constituting the Laws of Armed Conflict. They were followed by the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), and eventually the Rome Statute (1998) on which the first permanent International Criminal Court is based. Some scholars even observe a justice cascade. Enforcement of the norms entailed in the above legal documents benefits from opportunities such as increases in international interdependencies, the buildup of international organizations, and the proliferation of nongovernmental organizations in the human rights realm. Challenges arise from partially competing principles such as conflict settlement and survival of suffering populations as cultivated by social fields such as humanitarianism and diplomacy and from a lack of law enforcement. While international institutions play a crucial role, much international law is implemented through domestic courts. International penal law pertaining to human rights has affected domestic policymaking in the human rights realm but also nation-level policies pertaining to the punishment of common crimes. Finally, debates continue to rage regarding the effects of the criminalization of grave human rights violations. Proponents have thus far focused on potential deterrent effects, but a new line of thought has begun to take cultural effects seriously. Its representatives identify a redefinition of those responsible for mass violence as criminal perpetrators and substantial representational power of international criminal law against those who bear responsibility for the gravest of human rights violations.