Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Session C1 4: The Oxford Handbook on Atrocity Crimes
Monday, 19/July/2021:
5:30pm - 7:00pm

Session Chair: Henry Theriault, International Association of Genocide Scholars, United States of America
Location: Room 4


The Oxford Handbook on Atrocity Crimes

Chair(s): Hollie Nyseth Brehm (The Ohio State University)

Social scientific research focusing on mass atrocities, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, was given a new impetus after the end of the Cold War. In the last few decades research on the causes, prevalence, and aftermath of these crimes has been scattered across different academic disciplines. As an inherently interdisciplinary field, genocide studies facilitated cross disciplinary debate among scholars from amongst others criminology, international (criminal) law, political science, psychology, sociology, history and anthropology. The purpose of the Oxford Handbook on Atrocity Crimes, that is about to be published, is to further this development by bringing together scholars who each study the different categories of atrocity crimes from their own perspective to discuss the similarities and differences among genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and as such debate the state of the art of the field and how it should move forward.

The proposed panel is composed of contributors to the Handbook that will present their interdisciplinary research on genocide and other mass atrocities. Melanie O’Brien and Maartje Weerdesteijn will discuss the etiology of atrocity crimes. While Melanie O’Brien will examine the relationship between human rights and different types of atrocity crimes, Maartje Weerdesteijn will discuss the role regime type (democratic versus dictatorial) plays in bringing forth these different crimes. Erin Jessee will focus on the actors involved in atrocity crimes and discusses how actors may shift roles in episodes of mass violence. Finally, Kjell Anderson will focus on both the causes and actors of atrocity crimes in a case study of the Sinjar Massacre.


Presentations of the Symposium


Human Rights and Atrocities

Melanie O’Brien
University of Western Australia

Atrocity crimes are often also referred to as mass human rights violations. Indeed, atrocity crimes are human rights violations, although analysis of the conduct involved under both labels is rare. Behavior that is categorized as atrocity crimes (war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity) overlaps with that which is categorized as human rights violations. This chapter examines the relationship between human rights and atrocity crimes, considering human rights as means of prevention of atrocities, the relationship of each category of atrocity crime with human rights, and the importance of the human rights law regime in times of atrocity. Overall, there is a need for more engagement with the human rights regime in the mass atrocity contexts, from prevention through to accountability.


Democracies, Dictatorial Regimes, and Atrocities

Maartje Weerdesteijn
VU Amsterdam

A lot of research has been done on the relationship between regime type and mass atrocities and other human rights violations. The field has been hampered, however, by the diverse definitions that are employed for these violations and because of the lack of interaction between qualitative and quantitative strands of scholarship. This chapter takes a first step to remedy these difficulties. It will provide an overview of the most prominent empirical research on the relationship between the regime type and the prevalence of atrocities and will reflect on the consensus among scholars that established democracies are least likely to perpetrate mass atrocities. Subsequently, the most commonly used explanations for this finding are set out. In order to understand further why dictatorial regimes are more likely to perpetrate mass atrocities, a qualitative analysis is put forward that links the regime type to other known risk factors for mass atrocities.


On the Margins: Role Shifting in Atrocity Crimes

Erin Jessee
University of Glasgow

This chapter critically assesses the dichotomy of victims/survivors and perpetrators that proliferates in the media and other public discourses about genocide and related mass atrocities, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. Drawing on over a decade of oral historical and ethnographic research on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda—in which approximately 800,000 civilians, most of whom were Tutsi, were murdered by Hutu Power extremists— this chapter argues that most people’s experiences of mass atrocities are more complex than this dichotomy permits, and often included actions that challenge the boundaries between victim/survivor, bystander, rescuer, and perpetrator categories. It thus advocates for considering genocide-affected individuals as “complex political actors” whose actions exist along a spectrum of genocidal violence. This allows for deeper consideration of the shifting roles that people take on during periods of extreme violence, and in response to shifts in their nation’s political climate and personal circumstances.


Genocide Against the Êzidîs in Iraq: The Sinjār Massacre and its Aftermath

Kjell Anderson
University of Manitoba

In 2014 the “Islamic State” commenced a systematic campaign of violence against the Êzidîs (Yazidis) religious group within their traditional homelands in northern Iraq. This chapter systematically analyses this campaign through the lens of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention). It considers inter-communal relations before the Sinjār Massacre, as it came to be known, as well as the nature of ISIS’ campaign, and questions of identity, legal accountability, and victim trauma after the massacre. It is concluded that the Sinjār Massacre and its aftermath may constitute the crime of genocide. This crime was enacted through multiple methods including, but not limited to, killing, forced displacement, forced conversion, forced marriage, and the destruction of cultural property.


Crimes against Humanity in Ethiopia (1935-2020)

Tadesse Simie Metekia
Jimma University, Ethiopia

Ethiopia has experienced a gamut of mass atrocity violence over the last century. Colonial, political, and ethnic violence have been cyclical phenomena and have often escalated into mass atrocity crimes against civilians. By exhibiting an historical synopsis of mass atrocity violence in Ethiopia since 1935, this chapter demonstrates how the expression crimes against humanity can be operationalized to perceive, understand, and explain mass atrocity violence in diverse temporal, political and socio-economic contexts. Additionally, the chapter narrates an Ethiopian genealogy of transitional justice. The chapter concludes that crimes against humanity—as a judicial, scholarly, and historical framework—captures best the dynamics and nature of mass atrocity violence in Ethiopia. Simultaneously, we observe that Ethiopia has been spearheading trends in international law and transitional justice, but has done so on its own terms.