Mark S. Berlin

Dec 23, 2021

Criminalizing Atrocity

The Global Spread of Criminal Laws Against International Crimes

Oxford University Press 2020

Political Scientist Mark Berlin’s new book, Criminalizing Atrocity: The Global Spread of Criminal Laws Against International Crimes (Oxford UP, 2020), examines the process through which laws against international crimes are established and integrated into the legal regimes of nations. One of the initial questions Berlin hoped to answer with his work was why do countries choose to pass and implement laws about genocide and atrocities—noting that there was no clear tracing of patterns around the world when he first started his research. It becomes clear that there are two prongs to this question, in terms of the answers: how do countries establish and integrate these laws, and why do they choose to do so. Criminalizing Atrocity outlines the answers to these questions, explaining that either countries take up a wholesale reform of their criminal codes, and in the process integrate laws against genocide and atrocities, or countries pass and implement specific laws targeted to atrocities and genocide. Berlin’s research also indicates that the regime type or a regime’s propensity for war do not matter in terms of how these laws are passed and put into action.

While there has been codifications and work done in this realm of law for some time, much activity in this area followed World War II and the Nuremberg trials. Criminalizing Atrocity explores this postwar period, when experts in this realm were working to develop legal regimes to address genocide and atrocity crimes. While this postwar period brought some attention to these criminal codes, much more happened as the Cold War came to a conclusion and many countries integrated atrocity laws into their legal regimes. Berlin examines all of this through a multi-method approach, compiling extensive data on individual country’s legal regimes as part of the research, alongside interviews, archival work, and analysis of primary sources.

Criminalizing Atrocity will be of interest to a large cross section of scholars, including those who study international law, comparative politics, legal studies, genocide and war crimes, governmental reform, and historians.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at or tweet to @gorenlj.

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Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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