The Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence Studies Workshop resumed on Friday, January 25, with Hollie Nyseth Brehm's presentation on "Disaggregating Genocide in Rwanda." Brehm, a PhD candidate in Sociology and graduate human rights minor, is currently in the midst of two projects. Her dissertation investigates causes and processes of genocide on the societal, state, and international levels using detailed case studies of Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and Sudan. Brehm is also working with Professor Chris Uggen on a project exploring the age and sex distributions of participation in genocidal acts.
Two of the most enduring findings in criminology are that participation in crime declines with age and that men have higher participation rates than women at every age. The peak age of people who commit crimes is generally late adolescence to the early twenties. This finding holds across diverse types of crimes (from homicide to burglary), societies, and time periods. However, these well-established theories have never been tested for the crime of genocide.
Genocide scholars, including University of Minnesota professor Joachim Savelsberg, have begun to use techniques from criminology of late. Brehm and Uggen imported criminological methods into their study of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Using data gathered from the Gacaca courts, which conducted well over one million trials and constitute the largest database of genocide perpetrators to date. These community-level courts tried three main categories of crimes: 1) planning, organizing, supervising, engaging in sexual violence; 2) murder; and 3) property crimes, including looting and destruction. After reviewing data from the Gacaca courts, Brehm and Uggen will be able determine whether or not the age and sex distributions of involvement in the genocide mirror the general crime age and sex distributions.
Brehm also discussed one subsection of her dissertation on the causes of genocide. A statistic common throughout the literature on the Rwandan genocide notes that 333.3 killings took place per hour. This statistic, though accurate in a sense, masks important dimensions of the genocide. Given the relatively small geographic space and relatively short timeframe of the genocide, much regional and temporal variation in killings existed. Brehm first asks what variation occurred and then hypothesizes reasons for the variation.
Violence appears to have been concentrated more heavily in the more southern areas of the country. There are 145 communes in Rwanda, which are the equivalent of municipalities in the U.S. Deaths per commune range from 71 to 54,700 during the genocide. Brehm has begun to test several hypotheses that help explain this distribution of violence.
Hypotheses accounting for this regional variation include case-specific factors, regional characteristics, population and resource explanations, and historical elements. A fundamental theory in sociology suggests that communities can be organized against crime. In the case of genocide, though, a community might be organized for crime. In other words, community-level factors might encourage or discourage specific crimes.
Over the next two years, Brehm will perform similar examinations on the former Yugoslavia and Sudan as she develops her arguments on the causes and processes of genocide. The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies organizes the Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence Studies Workshop. Click here to see the workshop schedule. If you are interested in participating in the workshop, contact Shannon Golden.
Click here to read Brehm's article "The Crime of Genocide."
Written by Whitney Taylor.