The Policy Context of International Crimes

Date Presented:

Oct 20, 2006


Genocide, mass killing, torture, ethnic cleansing, and other gross violations of human rights are defined as war crimes or crimes against humanity under international law. To develop an adequate explanation of such actions, which is the task of social psychology, and an adequate legal response to them, which is the task of international law, requires going beyond the characteristics of individual perpetrators or even of the situations in which these practices take place. It requires close examination of the political system and of the policy process in which these actions are embedded and that provide the larger context for them.


The paper draws extensively on two earlier publications (HC Kelman, "The Social Context of Torture: Policy Process and Authority Structure" in RD Crelinsten and AP Schmid (eds), The Politics of Pain: Torturers and their Masters (1993); HC Kelman, "The Policy Context of Torture: A Social-Psychological Analysis" (2005) 87(857) International Review of the Red Cross).
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