In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Human Rights

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Human Rights Law and Enforcement
  • Adjudication of Human Rights
  • Punishment and Human Rights
  • Extensions of Human Rights

Criminology Human Rights
Jay S. Albanese
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0055


The concept of human rights is an old idea, but its application to criminology and criminal justice is fairly new. Human rights are those rights seen as being fundamental freedoms to which all human beings are entitled. In the United States, they are referred to as civil rights, most of which are enumerated in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights and which include freedom of speech, assembly, privacy, equality before law, and other civil and political rights. Other countries have similar lists of rights guaranteed to all citizens. The notion of human rights goes beyond civil and political rights, however, and also commonly includes the right to opportunities for work, education, and fair treatment in all aspects of life. Writings on human rights cover centuries, consisting of many works of political and social philosophy that provide the basis for natural and individual rights in the face of the greater power of governments. Many of these classic works are summarized in other reference works, such as The Encyclopedia of Human Rights and The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory, both cited in this entry. This guide to sources focuses on contributions to human rights literature and their connections to criminology and criminal justice.

General Overviews

Human rights has a long history, but only in recent years has this history been connected to criminology and criminal justice, corresponding to the growth of international treaties and agreements following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of many emerging democracies, postconflict states, and international concern about terrorism, trafficking, and related crimes. Griffin 2008 provides an overview of the nature of human rights and how they should be defined and circumscribed. Cassese 2009 provides a massive overview with more than six hundred entries on the development and application of international law and criminal justice throughout the world. Maier-Katkin, et al. 2009 discusses the history of the human rights-criminology relationship and why criminology should be addressing human rights as a subject. Hagan and Rymond-Richmond 2008 argues for the inclusion of genocide as part of the study of mainstream criminology. Tavakoli 2009 argues that human trafficking should be a transnational criminal offense, rather than an international crime, given its nature and harms. Tjaden 2005 makes an argument why crimes against women, traditionally defined as a domestic crime, should be addressed from a human rights perspective. Tonry 2008 addresses the unique history of the United States in permitting the treatment of offenders in ways that violate human rights from the perspective of other nations.

  • Cassese, Antonio, ed. 2009. The Oxford companion to international criminal justice. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A massive work in its scope, with twenty-one essays by leading scholars on the issues surrounding international humanitarian law, international criminal law, and the enforcement of these laws, followed by three hundred entries on international doctrines, procedures, and institutions. The final part contains more than 330 essays on trials from international and domestic courts dealing with war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, torture, and terrorism.

  • Dryzek, John S., Bonnie Honig, and Anne Phillips, eds. 2008. The Oxford handbook of political theory. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A comprehensive overview of political theory, with forty-five chapters written by distinguished political theorists. Focuses on classic, present, and future developments and directions in the field and the challenges presented by social, economic, and technological changes.

  • Forsythe, David P., ed. 2009. Encyclopedia of human rights. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A five-volume encyclopedia covering all aspects of human rights theory, practice, law, and history. Subjects include the development of the movement, historical cases of abuse, key figures, major organizations, and a range of issues in economics, government, religion, and journalism that impacts human rights theory and practice.

  • Griffin, James. 2008. On human rights. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A definitional examination describing what a human right is and how we can determine whether a proposed human right is what it’s supposed to be. The author discusses how to establish the content of particular human rights and resolve conflicts between them, and how twentieth century international law has made a limited contribution to settling the question of which rights are human rights.

  • Hagan, John, and Wenona Rymond-Richmond. 2008. Darfur and the Crime of Genocide. Cambridge Univ. Press.

    The authors argue the events in Darfur amounted to an intentional state-supported act of genocide. They contend that the discipline of criminology must begin to address crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity, and they review the intellectual history of competing approaches to genocide from classical works in criminology to the events described in this book.

  • Maier-Katkin, Daniel, Daniel P. Mears, Thomas J. Bernard. 2009. Towards a criminology of crimes against humanity. Theoretical Criminology 13:227–255.

    DOI: 10.1177/1362480609102880

    An examination of why criminology has largely ignored the study of crimes against humanity, even though the acts involved—genocide, murder, rape, torture, the appropriation or destruction of property, and the displacement and enslavement of populations—are serious criminal acts under national and international law and more serious than most crimes commonly studied by criminologists.

  • Tavakoli, Nina. 2009. A crime that offends the conscience of humanity: A proposal to reclassify trafficking in women as an international crime. International Criminal Law Review 9:77–98.

    DOI: 10.1163/157181209/398826

    The article argues that trafficking in women should be a transnational, rather than an international, crime against human rights because it offends international order and the conscience of humankind, and because transnational status affords greater protection to human rights abuses against women.

  • Tjaden, Patricia. 2005. Defining and measuring violence against women: Background, issues, and recommendations. Statistical Journal of the UN Economic Commission for Europe 22:217–224.

    Examines the history of the violence against women movement from its inception in the 1970s to the present. It discusses paradigmatic shifts that have occurred in the way violence against women is viewed: from a criminal justice perspective to a public health perspective, and most recently from a human rights perspective. The author recommends that violence against women be defined as broadly as possible and incorporate a human rights perspective.

  • Tonry, Michael. 2008. Crime and human rights—How political paranoia, protestant fundamentalism, and constitutional obsolescence combined to devastate Black America. Criminology 46:1–34.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2008.00108.x

    An examination of why the human rights concerns present in so many Western nations are so weak in the United States, where criminal justice practices are dramatically harsher (especially against African Americans) than in comparable industrialized nations, and why Americans give their leaders political permission to operate within such broad boundaries concerning human rights as compared to other nations.

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