State Crimes

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Michelle Madden Dempsey and François Tanguay-Renaud (eds.), From morality to law and back again: Liber Amicorum for John Gardner. Oxford University Press, 2023


Is a category of state crimes theoretically sound and important?

This chapter defends the view that it is, based on some of John Gardner’s key theoretical commitments about the possibility of state agency and wrongdoing. The central contention is that the category of state crimes is useful as a means of singling out those condemnable state wrongdoings that warrant punishment. Other existing normative categories such as state injustices and violations of human rights are not sufficiently discerning to pick out this important subset of state wrongs. The category also helps focus inquiries about the justification of the more deliberately burdensome responses that may be imposed on states—be it internationally or domestically, institutionally or popularly—for their morally graver legal wrongs. Punishments of states for such wrongs must be considered, I argue, as they may be justified in terms of their deterrence effect, but also as symbolically marking these wrongs and, to a lesser (and more questionable) extent, as giving states their just desert.