Dictionary of Gross Human Rights Violations



By - Kjell Follingstad Anderson

The term “genocidaire” connotes someone who is a perpetrator of genocide. The perpetration of genocide may take several forms including: direct and public incitement to commit genocide, complicity, attempt to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, and direct perpetration. Under the joint criminal enterprise theory of criminal liability people who are members of criminal organisations committing genocide (and who have knowledge of the nature of these organisations) may be found liable for genocide. Also, under command responsibility, de facto or de jure commanders are responsible for the perpetration of genocide by their subordinates (if they had knowledge or reason to know, and effective control). 

There are thousands of alleged genocidaires present in countries where genocide has occurred such as the former Yugoslavia, Sudan, and Rwanda. There are also alleged genocidaires who are living unmolested in many western countries such as Canada, the United States, France, and the U.K. France, in particular, harbours many alleged genocidaires from the Rwandan genocide such as former President Juvenal Habyarimana’s wife Agathe Kanziga. Under customary international criminal law, countries have a responsibility to extradite or prosecute perpetrators of genocide living within their borders.
The Rwandan genocide provides an illustrative case study of genocide perpetration. It was unique for the scale of perpetration (and victimisation) and thus there are hundreds of thousands of genocidaires living in Rwanda. Many of these people have now been released from prisons, both to ease overcrowding in prisons and to facilitate ‘reconciliation.’ According to research conducted by Scott Straus, there were approximately 175 000-210 000 perpetrators in the Rwandan genocide.[1]  It should be noted however, that Straus utilises a quite narrow definition of genocide that only encompasses direct perpetration or attempt occurring in 1994 (this leaves out previous genocidal massacres between 1991-1994 and other modes of perpetration such as incitement).
In terms of the means of perpetration, a Rwandan government study ascertained that the most common method of killing was death by machete (37.9%), followed by killing by club (16.8%), followed by killing by firearm (14.8%).[2] The killing occurred in four main types of locations: (1) at central congregation points such as churches, schools, and government buildings; (2) at roadblocks; (3) in houses (during house-to-house searches); and (4) during searches through cultivated fields, wooded zones, and marshes.[3] Finally, the vast majority of the killing in Rwanda was done in groups of at least ten perpetrators.[4] This reinforces the fact the Rwandan genocide (like other genocides and episodes of mass killing) was conducted with a great deal of organisation. Moreover, the horizontal pressures of group membership facilitated perpetration. Many studies have also shown that the majority of genocidaires have an “ordinary” psychological makeup and are not sadists or sociopaths. Therefore, genocidaires exist within a particular system and social context. 

[1]              Scott Straus, “How many Perpetrators were there in the Rwandan Genocide? An estimate,” Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 6, No. 1, March, 2004.
[2] Strauss 88.
[3] Strauss 88.
[4] Strauss 93.