From Change in Forms of Violence and from the Axis of Authoritarianism


TORONTO, June 12, 2016: On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Rome Statute, the treaty that brought the ICC to the Hague, the Zoryan Institute releases commentary from Dr. Herbert Hirsch, Professor in Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University and Co-editor of the Institute’s Genocide Studies International Journal, that reveals US hostility to protecting human rights.

As I was doing some reading and research, I happened to read the “American Service-Members’ Protection Act.” For those unaware of the Act, it is the legislation which exempts US troops from prosecution by the ICC.  One of the most interesting aspects, among many others including the overt hostility to the International Criminal Court on the part of the U.S., is the role played by David Scheffer, previously the U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues (1997-2001) and led the U.S. delegation in U.N. talks establishing the International Criminal Court. It was also Scheffer who testified against US participation, a position that he may or may not still hold today. If we read closely, US hostility to protecting human rights and to making sure that the US has impunity, simply reinforces the hypocrisy of US rhetoric. From Scheffer’s testimony alone, we can see that the U.S. has never had any intention of supporting human rights protections.

July 1st will mark 15 years since the entry into force of the Rome Statute, the treaty that brought into existence the ICC at the Hague. Serving as a world stage for persecuting the most heinous war criminals, the ICC’s inauguration represented a shared commitment towards multilateralism, international law and justice across borders. In recent months there has been a series of internal fissures – this year alone witnessed the exodus of three African states from the ICC, alongside a widespread complaint that the ICC was not capable of administering impartial justice. A quick historical glance through the ICC’s 24 defendants – all of whom are African – may suggest a serious regional or political bias against African nations. With this in mind, the deficit of multilateral cooperation   cannot simply be diagnosed as a product of entrenched regional bias, but also considered alongside the changing nature of international political violence.

The nature of international political violence has undergone a major transformation from large or relatively large wars pursued by nation-states to more scattered and dispersed violations of human rights.  In a very real sense, violence has been democratized as groups such as Al-Shabab and others create a kind of dystopian world where any person might be the victim of crimes against humanity at any moment.  The “new” wave of this violence is not pursued using weapons of mass destruction but with suicide bombers, cars, trucks, knives, hammers and any other mechanisms, which  are easy to acquire.  In a sense, the world has moved back to the era of up close and personal violence such as that of the sword and club.

Of course, this makes it more difficult to categorize, and renders the older models of genocide and human rights violations out-of-date.  The new/ old forms make it easier to accomplish but also blurs the lines of responsibility and the goals the perpetrators wish to achieve.  It is obvious that it is easy to disrupt civil society and cause fear, but that is not a mechanism, which will achieve any end result desired by the perpetrators.

In the past, students of political violence often set up categories to define the end goals of that violence. They talked about “expressive” violence as opposed to “instrumental” violence. The meanings were self-explanatory. Instrumental violence was committed with an end goal in mind. Perhaps to start a revolution, to bring about some sort of political change, etc. Expressive violence was a sort of catharsis with no real goal other than destruction and disruption.

These categories are no longer stable, but rather moving targets in the modern era. Significantly, studies demonstrate that the reaction against those who commit this type of violence simply reinforces the will of the targets to resist. This is really an old story which was learned by the Strategic Bombing Survey taken during World War II.  It repeatedly demonstrated that countries subjected to mass bombing, Great Britain for example, were reinforced in their desire to fight and had their will to resist hardened by the repeated Nazi assaults.

The new form of violence does, however, make it more difficult to find a target against which to retaliate and makes it harder to defend against.  Of course, this assumes that nation states such as the U.S. are actually interested in defending human rights instead of simply protecting their own perceived interests.

To counter these disturbing trends, it is necessary to form some mechanism to identify and contain and deter these threats.  In other words, similar to when NATO was formed to check and balance the Former Soviet Union and its’ allies.  This means a new humanitarian alliance must be formed.  It would, if it is to be successful, have resources necessary to achieve this task, as NATO had at its disposal the combined diplomatic and military force of the countries involved.  It would require an overt signal that this is the goal and that threats to human rights would eventuate a vigorous response.  However, given the present climate such a tactic would, out of necessity, be lead by particular states in Europe, Canada and others with an interest in protecting human rights.

How many times are we going to allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by politicians with self-serving agendas?  And now we are part of an axis of authoritarian regimes with Turkey, Russia, Saudi Arabia, etc.  Sometime the naiveté of genocide scholars must come to an end. I am not optimistic.

The Zoryan Institute and its subsidiary, the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, is the first Armenian non-profit, international centre devoted to the research and documentation of contemporary issues with a focus on Genocide, Diaspora and Homeland. For more information, please visit