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May 15, 2018 / C H Thompson

State crimes – revision notes with evaluative points

The scale of state crime

  • The power of the state means that they are able to commit large scale crimes.
  • The states monopoly of violence means that it can commit massive harm while its power enables it to conceal its crimes or avoid punishment.
  • The media focuses on state crimes in 3rd world countries, but avoid reporting on such crimes in the USA or UK.


However, it is hard for countries to intervene, such as the UN, due to state sovereignty and national boundaries. Many countries ignore international conventions and laws against acts such as genocide and war crimes.

The state is the source of law

  • The role is the state includes that of defining what is criminal and to manage the criminal justice process and the prosecution of offenders.
  • State crime can undermine the system of justice and it is ‘above the law’.
  • The capacity of the state to make the law enables it to avoid its own harmful actions as being defined as criminal.
  • The state can also use the criminal justice system to control its enemies.

Human rights and state crime

 One way of explaining state crime is by looking at human rights. A right is a privilege to something, such as acts of protection against the power of the state.

States define crimes within their own boundaries, however they are also subject to international laws and conventions that cover a range of actions. Green and Ward suggest that this is the way round the problem of defining state crime, that is the laws of the country breaks the internationally agreed human rights, then the state can be accused of crimes of the state.


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