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State crime and green crime – possible short answer exam questions

State crime and green crime are two of the most difficult topics within Crime and Deviance for students, below are two possible short answer questions (with answers) which could come up on A-level sociology paper 3

Outline two sociological explanations of state crime (4)

  • A modernization theory perspective would argue that it is only really ‘failed states’ which commit state crimes. This mainly happens in poorer countries where people see gaining government power as a means to siphoning off as much money for themselves as possible, hence the reason why there are higher levels of fraud and corruption in developing countries.
  • A dependency/ Marxist perspective would argue that ‘war crimes’ such as those by the British government/ army in Iraq in 2003 happen because nation states use violence on behalf of TNCS (e.g. oil companies) to secure valuable resources for them in far-away places.

Outline two reasons why people who commit ‘green crimes’ often do not get punished (4)


  • The first reason is that what green criminologists regard as ‘crimes against the environment’ are not regarded as illegal by the traditional legal system’ – for example, driving a large car, chopping down trees, even producing nuclear waste are all ‘legal’ under UK law, but are regarded as ‘crimes against the environment’ by more deep-ecological green criminologists.
  • The second reason is that companies may engage in law evasion to avoid laws which protect the environment in developed countries…. They may simply take their toxic waste, which is illegal to dump in the UK, to a country like Ghana and dump it there, where it is legal.

I’ll be covering both state and green crime as part of my upcoming ‘last minute sociology webinar series’….

 

For more information on Revision Webinars, please click the above gif, or check out this blog post.

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Sociological Perspectives on State Crime

You might like to read this post: What is State Crime? first of all!

The link between Poverty, Ethnic Conflict, Failed States and Crimes against Humanity

Take another look at Transparency Internationals Corruption Index and you’ll see there is  clear link between poverty and corruption, and war and conflict. Many of these countries are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, ethnic conflict, corruption and war which reinforce each other, and many of the worst state-crimes are done by nation states in times of civil-war.

According to Paul Collier, the problem starts with the fact that political leaders in developing countries don’t see politics in the same way that politicians in developed countries see politics – political office isn’t about public service – it is about getting as much money for yourself and the people that got you elected as possible. NB this is a rational response to gaining political power when the country is unstable and you don’t know how long you’re going to be in office for (because there are several other competitors who could potentially revolt against you).

In many cases, corruption will simply mean siphoning off public funds into private bank accounts, but the pursuit of profit by unethical governments can also mean harming citizens of countries – as with the Nigerian government allowing Shell to get away with polluting the Ogoni people’s lands in the Niger Delta, or the Ethiopian government displacing people when it leased an area the size of Wales to India.

In some other developing countries, political incumbents maintain power by the rule of terror – as is the case in many countries in Africa, most notably Zimbabwe and Sudan.
Such poor treatment of populations breeds the conditions for civil war and all of the various attendant war crimes and crimes against humanity, such as the recruitment of child soldiers and rape as a weapon of war, which go along with this. In extreme cases may result in terrorist organisations taking control – as in Afghanistan, Somalia and currently ISIS in Syria/ Iraq.

Evaluation

The problem with this view is that although there is a link between underdevelopment and state crime, some developed, or rapidly development nation states do appear very low down the corruption index – most notably Russia and China, two of the BRIC nations.

A Dependency Theorist (Marxist) Perspective on State Crime

From a Dependency point of view state crimes are not limited to developing countries. For a start, two of the greatest crimes in the history of humanity – Colonialism, which was basically the organised theft of resources through violence conquest, and slavery, were both a key part of the development of Capitalism in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

The sheer brutality and death toll inflicted on the peoples of North and South America, Asia and Africa by the European colonisers was far worse than the suffering in the two World Wars or any war since.

Today, it is also clear that it isn’t just poor states which engage in state-crime. Take the USA for example – In 2003 it went to war in Iraq against UN conventions, and today it maintains Guantanamo Bay where it holds prisoners without trial. This view is explored in John Pilger’s excellent film ‘War on Democracy’ in which he points out that the USA, since the end of WW2 has been involved militarily in more than 50 countries, all of these illegal interventions. By international standards, the USA is one of the worst abusers of human rights in world history.

A further point here is that Western countries are happy to accept other states abusing human rights if they are either powerful or support Western interests (or both) – so we say nothing about the Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women or its public flogging of criminals, and nothing of China preventing freedom of speech.

In short, from a Dependency Perspective, state-crime against the powerless is a systematic part of development. It is a means whereby rich countries make themselves rich at the expense of poor ones, and rich people in both rich and poor countries, make themselves rich at the expense of the powerless.

Evaluation of the Dependency View

Functionalists argue that the laws put in place by Nation States represent the collective morality of the people, and that when the agents of the state (the police and the courts) police and punish criminal behaviour, this reinforces the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Thus Nation States and their agents of social control are the ‘good guys’, working to maintain law and order and punish those criminals who would disrupt this.

Moreover, Nation States with functioning governments are a crucial part of modern societies. In the SCLY3 Global Development Module we found that nearly all wealthy nations have massive public sectors where governments provides universal goods such as health care and education and to provide the infrastructure required for economic growth.

In short, Functionalism stresses that despite the history of Colonialism, the role of America in war crimes today, and the existence of some state crime in developed countries (the expenses scandal and institutionalised police racism in the UK for example) the average citizen comes to less harm with a stable state rather than without it and state crime isn’t really a significant problem in developed countries.

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What is State Crime?

Green and Ward (2005) define state crime as ‘illegal or deviant activities perpetrated by the state, or with the complicity of state agencies’. State crimes are committed by, or on behalf of nation states in order to achieve their policies.

Types of State Crime

Mcloughlin identifies four categories of state crime:

  1. • Crimes by security forces – e.g. genocide, torture, imprisonment without trial and disappearance of dissidents
  2. • Political Crimes – e.g. censorship or corruption
  3. • Economic crimes – e.g. violation of health and safety laws
  4. • Social and cultural crimes – e.g. institutional racism

Crimes of Security – Genocide

Genocide means any act committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, such as Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group or Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. (Source – teaching genocide –).

Three of the best known genocides include The Holocaust, The Cambodian Genocide and The Rwandan Genocide

The Holocaust was a genocide in which Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its collaborators killed about six million Jews. From 1941 to 1945, Jews were systematically murdered in one of the deadliest genocides in history. Every arm of Germany’s bureaucracy was involved in the logistics and the carrying out of the genocide. Other victims of Nazi crimes included Romanis, ethnic Poles and other Slavs, Soviet POWs, communists, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the mentally and physically disabled. A network of about 42,500 facilities in Germany and German-occupied territories were used to concentrate victims for slave labour, mass murder, and other human rights abuses. Over 200,000 people are estimated to have been Holocaust perpetrators.

In Cambodia, a genocide was carried out by the Khmer Rouge (KR) regime led by Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979 in which an estimated one and a half to three million people died. The KR had planned to create a form of agrarian socialism which was founded on the ideals of Stalinism and Maoism. The KR policies of forced relocation of the population from urban centres, torture, mass executions, use of forced labour, malnutrition, and disease led to the deaths of an estimated 25 percent of the total population (around 2 million people).

The Rwandan Genocide was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority. During the approximate 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994, an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, constituting as much as 70% of the Tutsi and 20% of Rwanda’s total population. The genocide was planned by members of the core political elite known as the akazu, many of whom occupied positions at top levels of the national government. Perpetrators came from the ranks of the Rwandan army, the National Police, government-backed militias and the Hutu civilian population.

Political Crimes – Corruption

Political corruption can take various forms, but the most common examples appear to be politicians siphoning public money off to their private bank accounts, unfairly granting government contracts in return for bribes and electoral fraud (vote rigging).
According to the Corruption Index put together by Transparency International there seems to be a correlation between corruption, war and conflict and poverty – Somalia, North Korea, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq come out bottom of the Corruption Index, while the usual suspects – the Scandinavian countries plus Canada come out as the least corrupt.

To give you an example of how blatant corruption can get take the case of Teodoro Mbasogo who is the leader of Equatorial Guinea, one of the world’s poorest countries, but is also paradoxically one of the world’s wealthiest heads of state, with an estimated net worth of $600 million. For perspective, Barack Obama has a net worth of about $11.8 million.

Equatorial Guinea, despite having some of Africa’s largest oil reserves, has one of the most underdeveloped infrastructures and poorest populations in the world – so where does the money go?

The answer, at least from the outside, seems to be directly from the corporate accounts of Exxon Mobil and other oil companies straight into the pockets of Obiang and his family. In 2003, Obiang announced that to combat corruption in public service jobs, he would be taking full control of the national treasury. He then withdrew half a billion dollars (that’s billion with a B) in state money from the national treasury and deposited it into accounts in his own name at Riggs Bank, based in Washington D.C., effectively siphoning off all of the state’s money into his own pocket.
In addition to draining the country’s accounts, he’s also been implicated in various human rights abuses, electoral fraud, nepotism, and using security contractors to maintain control over the country.

Of course corruption doesn’t just happen in less developed countries – In 2009, the MP’s expenses scandal erupted in the UK, where numerous members of parliament and members of the house of Lords were found to be claiming expenses dishonestly. This resulted in 8 successful criminal prosecutions, any many more resignations, although most of the MPs got away with very minor punishments, as with Derek Conway MP who only received a 10 day suspension for paying his Son, Freddie, thousands of pounds for apparently doing nothing.

State Crime and Human Rights

One thing that has made it easier to hold states accountable is the emergence of the of the United Nations after the second world war, which developed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – developed after world war two, designed to protect individual citizens from oppressive regimes – this is legally binding on member states. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains a list of freedoms which states are supposed to protect such as…

  • Article 4 – No one shall be held in slavery or servitude
  • Article 5 – No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Article 20 – Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
  • Article 24 – Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable working hours and holidays with pay.

The Scale of State Crime/ Human Right’s Abuses

The fact that Nation State’s maintain power and control over large territories and populations mean that they have the potential to engage in large scale crimes which victimise extremely large numbers of people – for example the Cambodian Genocide in the 1970s is estimated to have wiped out 25% of the population.