Just Sociology

State Crimes: Undermining Democracy Violating Human Rights

State crime is a type of illegal activity that is carried out by state policies, government officials, politicians, civil servants, public sector workers, and state agencies. These illegal activities can cause harm to individuals and societies and can take several forms.

This article examines the definition and examples of state crime and discusses the different categories of state crime, with a particular focus on crimes of security and political crimes.

State Crime


State crime can be defined as illegal activities that are carried out by or on behalf of state actors using their official positions. These activities violate human rights, undermine the rule of law, and go against democratic principles.

State crime can take many forms, including torture, illegal detention, extrajudicial killings, destruction of property, and human rights abuses. State crimes are committed in the name of public policies, state secrecy or national security.

State crime is different from individual or organized crime as it is carried out through state institutions and by state officials. For this reason, state crimes are often more difficult to detect, investigate and prosecute than individual crimes, and can cause severe damage to individuals or society as a whole.


There are several types of state crime, and they can cause harm to individuals and societies in various ways. Some of the most common types of state crime include:


Crimes against humanity: These crimes involve widespread or systematic attacks against a civilian population, such as torture, genocide, mass murder, forced disappearances. 2.

Political Crimes: These crimes target political opponents, journalists or protestors, and involve arbitrary detention, torture, murder, and other human rights abuses. 3.

Crimes of economic injustice: This involves embezzlement, bribery, and corruption that are committed by state officials, politicians, or corporate leaders. 4.

Environmental crimes: These crimes involve the poisoning of the environment, such as pollution, deforestation, or unsustainable development.

Categories of State Crime


State crimes can be categorized in different ways. McLaughlin (2006) argued that there are four main categories of state crime: economic, political, social, and cultural.

Each category can overlap with the others. 1.

Economic crimes: These involve financial fraud, corruption, tax evasion, and other unlawful activities that result in financial gain or loss to the state. 2.

Political crimes: These involve abuses of power by state officials, such as torture, beatings, murder, or violations of human rights in the name of national security. 3.

Social crimes: These involve the violation of social justice principles, such as discrimination, poverty, access to healthcare/education. 4.

Cultural crimes: these involve the destruction of cultural heritage, repression of ethnic and religious minorities, and actions against diversity.

Crimes of Security and Political Crimes

Crimes of security are those that undermine state security, such as acts of terrorism or insurgency, the seizure of state property, cyberattacks, espionage, and sabotage. Some state crimes of security can have devastating consequences, such as the Holocaust, the Cambodian Genocide, and the Rwandan Genocide.

Millions of people lost their lives because of state-sanctioned murder, torture, and persecution. Political crimes, on the other hand, involve the abuse of power by politicians and other state officials.

Political crimes include authoritarianism, censorship, repression of political opposition, embezzlement of public funds and corruption which led to worldwide public outrage such as the Equatorial Guinea, MPs expenses scandal. These activities undermine the democratic processes, limiting the freedom to access information and freedom of speech, and allow for the creation of a climate of fear by the general public.

To combat state crime, transparency, and accountability are essential. Organizations, such as Transparency International, aim to promote ethics around the globe and combat corruption.

These organizations highlight the importance of transparency to build resilience and public trust in governmental institutions.


In conclusion, State crime is illegal activities carried out by those in power using their position, resulting in various forms of harm to individuals and society. It takes different forms, including crimes against humanity, political crimes, economic injustice, and environmental crimes.

McLaughlin’s categories of state crime (economic, political, social, cultural) and crimes of security, political crimes were discussed in this article. The actions of these state economies undermine democratic principles, human rights, and the rule of law.

Efforts by organizations to promote transparency and combat corruption are essential in bringing about a just society.

State Crime and Human Rights

Human Rights

Human rights are fundamental rights that are granted to individuals by virtue of their being human, as recognised by the United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). These rights include civil and political rights, such as the right to vote, the right to free speech, and the right to due process of law.

Furthermore, they include economic, social, and cultural rights; such as the right to work, to education, to an adequate standard of living, to cultural participation, and equal access to justice. Human rights aim to protect the dignity, freedom and equality of all individual citizens of a nation.

Human rights provide the necessary framework to ensure that individual rights are protected and respected. They constitute a moral and ethical obligation for government officials, civil society organizations, and private corporations.

When violations of human rights occur, such as state crimes, individual dignity is threatened, and society is at risk of losing vital mechanisms of rule of law. Scale of State Crime/Human Rights Abuses

State crimes and human rights abuses often occur on a large scale, and the victims are commonly targeted based on their group membership.

Populations who belong to certain groups or who have certain characteristics, such as political opposition, race, religion, or sexual orientation, are more likely to be affected by these crimes. State crimes can lead to widespread human rights violations, victimisation, and cause significant harm to victims and their families.

For example, the Rwandan Genocide was a state crime that resulted in the deaths of over 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu people. The victims were targeted due to their ethnicity, which made them vulnerable to violence at the hands of Hutu extremists in the government and military.

The crime was carried out during a time of political instability and economic hardship, furthering the impact of state crimes on the population. Similarly, the Nazi Holocaust targeted Jews, Roma, and other minority groups through politically sanctioned mass killings, forced labour, and exploitation.

The scale of these atrocities has left a mark on global history and had devastating impacts on the victim’s families and societies as a whole. Such examples highlight how acts of state institutionalisation can cause irreparable harm to populations and can greatly undermine the capacity for justice and rule of law.

In conclusion, state crimes threaten the rights and dignity of individuals and society as a whole. Human rights provide a framework to ensure that these rights are protected and respected.

State crimes and their large scale effects on the victim’s families and society can lead to significant human rights violations and victimisation. Adequate efforts need to be made to promote a culture of human rights, strengthen the rule of law and hold violators accountable for their actions, irrespective of their position in society.

This way, victims of state crimes can receive the justice they deserve, deterrence is achieved, and greater accountability is established. In conclusion, state crime is a critical issue for society as it undermines the rule of law, violates human rights, and impedes democratic processes.

The article discussed the definition of state crime, provided examples and identified different categories, and highlighted the importance of human rights in combating state crime. Furthermore, it discussed the scale of state crimes and how its effects can cause significant harm to victims and societies as a whole.

To combat state crime, transparency, accountability, and adherence to human rights are necessary. A world where human rights are respected and upheld would be free of the devastating impacts of state crimes.


Q: What is state crime? A: State crime is illegal activities that are committed by state actors or on behalf of state actors using their official positions, which go against democratic principles and violate human rights.

Q: What are some examples of state crimes? A:

Examples of state crimes include torture, genocide, mass murder, illegal detention, extrajudicial killings, and destruction of property, among others.

Q: What are the categories of state crimes? A: Categories of state crimes include economic, political, social, and cultural types.

Q: What is the impact of state crimes on victims? A: State crimes can cause significant harm to victims and their families, including physical, psychological and economic damage, with the effects often lasting long after the crime has been committed.

Q: What can be done to combat state crime? A: Transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights are necessary to combat state crimes.

Promoting transparency ensures public trust in governmental institutions while accountability ensures that violators of human rights remain liable for their actions.

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