Study Notes

Transgressive Criminology and Human Rights Abuses

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 30 Jul 2018

Transgressive criminologists are interested in a broader definition of crime – activities that cause harm – rather than activities that are against the law of the land.

This enables them to consider corporate crime, state crime and green crime in a much broader way than traditional criminologists. Post‐modern feminists like Carol Smart also promote a transgressive approach to criminology on the basis that traditional criminology is malestream and ignores that many things that are harmful to women are not illegal. Marxists raise similar points; they point out that the law is made by the ruling class; they would consider some activities as "corporate crime" or "white collar crime" without the perpetrators necessarily breaking any laws.

As such, while human rights are recognised in international law, many actions recorded as abuses of human rights by non‐governmental human rights organisations (e.g. Amnesty International) are not against the laws in the countries where they happen: there is a legal debate about whether they are crimes in the traditional sense.

Human rights refer to legal and moral entitlements that all people should have, regardless of where they live or any other characteristic. After World War Two, and the horrors of the holocaust, the United Nations set out a list of 31 such rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A similar document was produced at the European Convention on Human Rights. These provisions were legally‐enforced through the European Court of Human Rights and, in the UK, through national courts (because of the Human Rights Act 1998).

The Human Rights Act (1998) allows for individuals within the United Kingdom to be given a set of legal rights that mirror those of the European Convention of Human Rights which, in turn, reflect (but are not identical to) the guidelines set out by the United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Despite these international guidelines having existed since the 1940s, human rights abuses frequently occur, especially against marginalised groups. Although private individuals and organisations can breach human rights legislation, these abuses are very often state crimes. Examples of human rights abuses would include the widespread use of torture and also the repression of homosexuals in many countries (e.g.Chechnya). However, countries like the UK are sometimes accused of abusing human rights over apparently less serious issues. For example, the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly ruled against the UK's policy of not allowing prisoners to vote in elections.

Hate crimes

Hate crimes can also be seen as examples of human rights abuses, but usually by private individuals rather than states. These are crimes where the motive is discrimination against individuals because of certain characteristics such as ethnicity or sexual orientation. Various pieces of legislation, such as the Equality Act and the Incitement to Racial Hatred and Incitement to Religious Hatred acts, seek to control discriminatory behaviour in the UK. Furthermore, when prosecuting crimes such as assault, evidence of it being a hate crime can be an aggravating factor that judges consider at sentencing and should lead to a longer than average custodial sentence. Where states do not have such laws, or do not enforce them, then they may well be in breach of the terms of the universal declaration of human rights.

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