Many have argued that the state can breach individual’s human rights. Human rights can be defined as “A right that is believed to belong justifiably to everyone”. Schwendinger (1970) argues that we should define crime in terms of the violation of basic human rights rather than the breaking of legal rules. Cohen believes some acts aren’t illegal even though we find them immoral. However, Herman argues that we should label acts criminal if they go against our human rights. Sociologists should defend human rights even if it is against the state.
It is a form of transgressive criminology. This means when states deny the rights of an individual; they must be regarded as criminals. This shows us that the state knowingly, violates human rights when they are committing crimes such as genocide. The term genocide refers to violent crimes committed against national, ethnic, racial or religious groups. A recent example of genocide is Darfur, a region in Sudan, where a civil war has been raging since 1983. To date over 2 million people have been killed and 4 million displaced, with many thousands more tortured, injured and raped.
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The evidence of the crimes that the State commit is known by the public, but they are not prosecuted for them, like other criminals because of the power they possess. This indicates to us that the State has so much power it is able to subdue people who may show opposition. For example, Hitler and the Nazis eliminated any opposition so that Hitler could rule. Nevertheless, they were breaching people’s right to speech, life and freedom; and they were not held accountable for their actions because of their power.
Sykes and Matza developed the Neutralisation Theory. They identified 5 neurtralistation techniques that delinquents use to justify their behaviour: denial of victim, denial of injury, denial of responsibility, condemning the condemners and appeal to higher loyalty. The killing of De Menezes, in Stockwell tube station, 2005, by the police is an example of the Neutralisation Theory. The marksmen who killed De Menezes were called liars in court. The witnesses in the tube station said that the officers failed to issue warnings before they shot him.
The officers claimed that they shouted ‘armed police’. However, the jurors sided with the recollections of the passengers who said they did not shout ‘armed police’ and Mr. De Menezes did not approach them ‘aggressively’, as the police claimed. The evidence of the witnesses and the police conflicted and also serious questions were raised about the fact that the firearms officers’ conferred with each other before writing up their statements. However, that the officers denied that the killing was unlawful and claimed that their actions were legitimate.
Therefore, the De Menezes case illustrates two aspects of the Neutralisation Theory because the officers denied the victim and denied the responsibility. They were also found not guilty. States have the ability to get others to commit crimes due to obedience. Some sociologists argue that torture and other crimes are part of the role that people are socialized into by the State. They look at the conditions that make such behaviour acceptable. Sociologists like Kelman & Hamilton (1989) have focused on ‘crimes of obedience’. They used the My Lai massacre where American soldiers killed 400 civilians as an example.
This allows us to understand the people who commit the crimes are just the ‘bad apples’ produced by the ‘bad apple makers’, who are influenced to believe that what they are doing is admissible and legal. Kelman and Hamilton developed three features that produce crimes of obedience: Authorisation: the status of the commander, Routinisation: strong emphasis on turning the criminal act into a routine act and Dehumanisation: the enemy is portrayed as inhuman (e. g. Monstrous). The State socialise the people who will be committing the crime; so to an extent they are brain washing them into doing the crime but the State is not convicted for it.
So the people being ‘brainwashed’ are just pawns used by the State and ensure that the crime will not be found guilty because the court will side with them and prove them innocent. This can begin to explain that the State have the ability to socialise people into thinking that the things they are being told to do is acceptable. However, because they are just pawns they can not fight back against or oppose the State because of the power the State has. Cohen comments that perpetrators of crimes on behalf of the state do not see themselves as criminal.
He argues that they use techniques of the Neurtralistation Theory to deny or justify crimes against people. For example they deny their victims by labeling them terrorist or extremists. Cohen believes that within State crime there is an underlying factor of the culture of denial. Cohen claims that dictatorship simply denied committing human right abuses whereas democratic states attempts to legitimise their actions therefore there is a three stage spiral of denial as a result to this. Stage one: ‘It didn’t happen’, the state denies anything has happened.
Stage two: If it did happen, it is something else’, they are somewhat admitting to it but saying it is something else. Stage three: ‘Even if it is what you say it is, it’s justified’, they are admitting to the crime but they are trying to justify their reasons. State crime is carried out by powerful people or groups who can define their activities as being legitimate. Governments have the power and resources to cover up such activities and can actually control the flow of information and especially the media by issuing legal instructions to prevent journalists from speaking about state crimes in the ‘public interest’.
State crime is clearly an area of interest to Marxist sociologists, who generally see the government as controlled or at least heavily influenced, by the bourgeoisie. War crimes can be committed by individuals, groups and the state. They are punishable offences under international law. War crimes committed by the state include directing attacks against civilians, torture or inhumane treatment of prisoners, taking hostages, using civilians as shields, using child soldiers, and settlement of an occupied territory.
For example a strong argument has been made by International Human Rights lawyers that those held by the American government in Guantanamo have been subject to torture and inhuman treatment in order to extract information. Methods used by the Americans include ‘Waterboarding’, which breaches international standards for human rights. Recent war trials include Saddam Hussein, who was found guilty by an Iraqi court and then hanged. It is problematic and controversial to decide what a war crime is and who is a war criminal.