Genocidal Crimes: The Resistance Mechanisms


Throughout the history, state crimes have changed and increased exponentially across the world. As a result, scholars, academics, and policy-makers have developed certain resistance mechanisms to oppose and prevent the crimes of the powerful in some of the most violent areas of the world. This document aims to present a staged strategy to oppose genocidal crimes as part of transitional justice system during periods of political and social changes. The strategy is advocating for three resistance mechanisms implemented in the following order, from a local scale to the more global approach: Civil Society, Truth Commissions, and the International Criminal Court (International State Crime Initiative, n.d.). The concepts of resistance, transitional justice, and genocide will be defined, analyzed, and discussed from an academic viewpoint. Essential international documents and agreements will be identified as part of the global initiative to prevent state crimes. Finally, the critical evaluation of three resistance mechanisms, as well as their strengths and weaknesses, will be given in order to draw certain conclusions about the effectiveness of each of these approaches.

Resistance and Transitional Justice

Resistance and transitional justice are two essential concepts in the state crime scholarship. In relation to this area of study, resistance can be defined as a combination of ways and strategies individuals and members of various civil groups can adopt to oppose, challenge, and prevent state crimes. The forms of resistance can vary from “small, silent and personal through to multitudinous, spectacular and momentous” (Stanley & McCulloch, 2012, p. 4). The activities considered as resistance can be “they can be violent or non-violent, passive or active, hidden or open, verbal or physical, spontaneous or strategic, local or global” (Stanley & McCulloch, 2012, p. 4). In turn, transitional justice is widely defined as “the judicial and non-judicial processes designed to address past human rights violations following periods of political turmoil, state repression, and armed conflict” (Dancy et al., 2019, p. 1). Transitional justice also involves a wide range of activities and mechanisms, such as truth commissions, reparations, prosecutions, which create a basis for the affected societies to transform their political systems and resolve conflicts.

Resistance and transitional justice processes are valuable for all societies that aim to accomplish significant political changes. As an essential element of transitional justice, resistance allows establishing a basis for reforms in the context of political and social problems in the state. It helps to hold state authorities accountable for their crimes and change the feelings of insecurity and despair among the population. The importance and value of transitional justice lies in the fact that it promotes ideas that improve people’s quality of life following major crises and human rights violations. These ideas include peace-building, civic engagement, democracy, justice for all, and reconciliation.

Although resistance had received insufficient attention of many state crime theorists in the past, it has become an extremely important aspect of state crime scholarship. Theorists are increasingly interested in defining the acts of resistance, “exploring its impact on state crime, and reflecting upon what makes resistance effective in both the short and longer term” (Bruinsma & Weisburd, 2013, p. 783). It can be argued that criminologists have an obligation to engage in the activities that raise public awareness on the application of resistance mechanisms to prevent and oppose state crimes. While they have been successful in documenting and exposing state crimes to the public, documentation and analysis of the ways in which individuals can engage in opposing these crimes need additional attention from academics.

Case Study

One of the gravest and most terrifying acts of state terrorism and crimes against humanity is genocide. It is generally defined as “the intentional destruction of a specific national, ethnic, racial, or religious group”, exemplified by the mass killings of the Tutsi, members of the African nation of Rwanda, in 1994 (International State Crime Initiative, n.d., par. 1). The term itself was created by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in 1944 in response to the Nazis’ efforts to eradicate Jewish populations in the 1940s. Dr Lemkin was among the first historical figures who campaigned for recognizing genocide as “a crime under international law” (United Nations, n.d., par. 2). This eventually took place in 1946, and in 1948, the UN General Assembly “codified genocide as an independent crime in its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention)” (International State Crime Initiative, n.d., par. 4). In addition to the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, some examples of this crime that occurred throughout the 20th century are the Holodomor, the Cambodian genocide, and the Nanjing massacre.

The United Nations Genocide Convention defines a number of acts that should be considered as genocide. Apart from killing members of a certain group, these acts include “causing bodily or mental harm” to them, as well as “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group” (United Nations, n.d., par. 6). Article II of the Convention also describes acts that involve “deliberate infliction of harm to the group conditions of life calculated to destroy the group” and “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” (United Nations, n.d., par. 6). Numerous examples of genocide cases throughout the history have demonstrated that several types of these acts can often be found in one case.

Critical Analysis of Civil Society as a Resistance Mechanism

Civil society is the third mechanism that can be applied to resist state crimes and genocidal cases in particular. Civil society organizations can be defined as “a range of non-state agencies that are capable of resisting or challenging the illegitimate practices of any kind of state” (Green & Ward, 2012, p. 34). Civil societies often partner with the representatives of the State in achieving their goals. Civil society plays an important role both in peaceful and fragile, conflict-ridden states due to several strengths. First, it acts as “a means of ‘alternative regulation”, which means that it provides a support system in states that “cannot be relied upon to regulate themselves in accordance with international norms” (Green and Ward, 2012, p. 38). Second, civil society organizations often have a wide remit and “affords an authentic force for resistance and change” (Green and Ward, 2012, p. 28). However, this mechanism has a significant weakness; civil society organizations can have different types of individuals among their members, which poses certain risks. For example, some of these members can have underlying or openly-expressed criminal intentions.

Despite the fact that there is large body of research that studies civil societies, it can be argued that their impact on the prevention of genocidal crimes is still controversial. According to Chenoweth and Perkoski (2019), “a relatively participatory and autonomous civil society is correlated with shorter periods of mass killings” (p. 1). At the same time, their study has demonstrated that in some cases, “active civil societies were associated with higher rates of lethality, particularly when the society has high levels of inequality” (Chenoweth & Perkoski, 2019, p. 1). Therefore, further research is required to consider the factors that contribute to these different outcomes.

Critical Analysis of Truth Commissions as a Resistance Mechanism

The establishment of specific official bodies, or truth commissions, is one of the forms of resistance to state crimes. They are generally created “in transitions to democracy and often provide the most authoritative documents on state crime” (Stanley, 2005, p. 582). Truth commissions have several aspects, or objectives; the first one is investigating the facts that are disputed or denied by the responsible parties, as well as establishing the causes and consequences of the crime (International Centre for Transitional Justice, n.d., par. 4). The second objective is empowering the victims of the crime, providing them with recognition and support while the third objective is informing policy-makers and encouraging positive change in the affected communities.

One of the major strengths of this approach is the fact that it allows revealing state authorities’ criminal activities, exposing “the complexity and extent of criminality during repressions” (Stanley, 2005, p. 583). In addition, truth commissions provide states with an opportunity to provide support systems to the groups and minorities that “were victimized by the previous regime” (Stanley, 2005, p. 583). In turn, one of the major weaknesses of this mechanism is the fact that truth commissions might not always have the power to introduce the required positive changes for the populations affected by the crime. The extent to which they can achieve their objectives in large part depends on the will and cooperation of transitional governments.

Furthermore, it is important to note that truth commissions are often formed during the time when the balance of power is still favourable for the previous regime. As a result, the “criminal prosecutions of offenders looks unlikely”, and they continue to “maintain certain political, economic, and social upper-hand” (Stanley, 2005, p. 587). This can be exemplified by the Guatemalan genocide and Guatemala’s 1995 Historical Clarification Commission, created in 1994 as “part of the peace process between the government and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) rebels” (Yale University, n.d., par. 3). The Commission’s report on the Maya genocide had been ignored by the government for many years, mainly due to the fact some representatives of the previous regime were still wielding a certain amount of power. As a result, individuals that the Commission’s report identified as responsible for the crimes were not held accountable for several years.

Critical Analysis of International Criminal Court as a Resistance Mechanism

The second important resistance mechanism that is used to investigate cases of genocide is the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is “the only permanent international judicial body to try individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes” (Coalition for the ICC, n.d.). The court is “completely independent having been established by international treaty, the Rome Statute” (Coalition for the ICC, n.d.). The court’s main objectives are restoring international justice, holding the responsible parties accountable, and ending impunity.

One of the strengths of the ICC is the fact that is provides the international community with a permanent and universal rule of law that stands above state sovereignty. Additionally, it is defined as a fair and impartial institution with significant budgets, which allows it to gain and provide its international expertise in an efficient manner and to a large number of communities worldwide (Tsilonis, 2019). However, there are some major weaknesses of ICC as a resistance mechanism, one of them being the fact that “many countries are currently outside the court’s system, including China, the US, and Russia” (Coalition for ICC, n.d., par. 5). Moreover, according to the official website of the ICC, it can only prosecute crimes that “were committed by a State Party national, or in the territory of a State Party, or in a State that has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court” (International Criminal Court, n.d.). It should be noted that the Court works in combination with national criminal systems, and does not replace them completely during investigations.

It can be stated that the contribution the ICC makes to eradicating genocide and other state crimes is conditional. There are certain landmark cases in which the interventions of the court allowed implementing significant positive changes, such as Uganda, Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire. However, in some cases, such as Sudan of Libya, these interventions had little effect. To become a more efficient mechanism in mitigating the devastating consequences of state crimes, the ICC still needs to gain the support of some major nations, such as the US, China, and Japan.


This document has analyzed three resistance mechanisms in relation to their effectiveness in opposing genocidal crimes and mass killings. It can be concluded that Civil Society, Truth Commissions, and the International Criminal Court are all valid approaches to the problem that have a number of strengths and weaknesses. Taken into consideration the positive and negative effects of these methods, one may argue that Civil Society is the least effective resistance mechanism to oppose genocidal crimes, while the ICC is the most effective one. Nevertheless, there is still a lack of data on the exact factors contributing to positive or negative outcomes of these interventions. Therefore, further research can be recommended to focus on these aspects.


Bruinsma, G., & Weisburd, D. (2014). Encyclopedia of criminology and criminal justice. Springer.

Chenoweth, E., & Perkoski, E. (2019). A source of escalation or a source of restraint? An empirical investigation of how civil society affects mass killings. SSRN Electronic Journal, 1-51. Web.

Coalition for the International Criminal Court. (n.d.). About the coalition. Coalition for the International Criminal Court | Global justice for atrocities. Web.

Dancy, G., Marchesi, B. E., Olsen, T. D., Payne, L. A., Reiter, A. G., & Sikkink, K. (2019). Behind bars and bargains: New Findings on transitional justice in emerging democracies. International Studies Quarterly, 63(1), 99-110. Web.

Green, P. & Ward, T. (2012). Civil society, resistance and state crime. In E. Stanley & J. McCulloch (Eds.), State Crime and Resistance. Routledge

International Center for Transitional Justice. (n.d.). Truth seeking: Elements of creating an effective truth commission. Web.

International Criminal Court. (n.d.). How the court works. Web.

International State Crime Initiative. (n.d.). A critical introduction to genocide. Home. Web.

Stanley, E. (2005). Truth commissions and the recognition of state crime. The British Journal of Criminology, 45(4), 582-597. Web.

Stanley, E., & McCulloch, J. (2012). State crime and resistance (1st ed.). Routledge.

Tsilonis, V. (2019). The jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Springer Nature.

United Nations. (n.d.). United Nations office on genocide prevention and the responsibility to protect. Welcome to the United Nations. Web.

Yale University. (n.d.). Truth commissions. Genocide Studies Program. Web.

Cite this paper

Select style


LawBirdie. (2023, May 8). Genocidal Crimes: The Resistance Mechanisms. Retrieved from


LawBirdie. (2023, May 8). Genocidal Crimes: The Resistance Mechanisms.

Work Cited

"Genocidal Crimes: The Resistance Mechanisms." LawBirdie, 8 May 2023,


LawBirdie. (2023) 'Genocidal Crimes: The Resistance Mechanisms'. 8 May.


LawBirdie. 2023. "Genocidal Crimes: The Resistance Mechanisms." May 8, 2023.

1. LawBirdie. "Genocidal Crimes: The Resistance Mechanisms." May 8, 2023.


LawBirdie. "Genocidal Crimes: The Resistance Mechanisms." May 8, 2023.