Final Conclusions: Criminal Offences or Human Rights Violations: What is the Difference?

On a simple level, there is little difference between ‘crimes’ and infringements of ‘human rights’. In both regards a harm or injury is recognized and whether it is labelled a criminal offence or a human rights violation is secondary to the recognition itself. The way in which the harm or injury is classified becomes much more pertinent when considering how to respond to it. Should criminal justice prevail, so also do procedural frameworks, legal definitions, and a clearly delineated impartial court identifying an individual or organisation responsible, locating an appropriate punishment. Alternatively, should a human rights violation be found, a more political, systematic response is made within a discursive report or decision. In a victim-centred approach, how you categorize can make little difference as long as the harm ends, responsibility is apportioned, and (perhaps) compensation occurs. There may be a normative aspect too: once this historic harm is recognized, prevention of future harms might ensue through deterrence and/or informed reform of policy or law, and both a criminal justice process and a human rights adjudication could achieve this. What needs to not occur is for one branch to be prioritized or suppress the other, where the criminalization of an organisation stemming from frustration at an inability to reach the individuals involved results in a curtailment of rights, a lack of judicial oversight, or a failure to fit an (individual) norm to a (collective) defendant.

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