Understanding Humanitarian Crime and Deviance in Global Chains of Harm Production

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Sch of Law


For several decades now, international humanitarian organisations have been evidenced to commit social harms that reinforce forms of structural violence and inevitably generate egregious human rights violations. Often, these harms occur in the context of humanitarian interactions with states and their agents, but increasingly, they are also motivated by the competitive dynamics of the humanitarian marketplace. While this may be the case, the everyday harms committed by humanitarian actors are often dismissed as singular and unintentional events, and are rarely interrogated from criminological perspectives relating to crime, deviance, and institutional violence.

This Fellowship builds upon my PhD, which generated rich empirical insights on the responsibilities of state and humanitarian actors for harms associated with forced evictions, aid negligence, land dispossession, and homelessness. My PhD takes a novel approach to questions of state and humanitarian harm production by theorising what organisational harms and wrongdoing may be considered crime. Adopting a state crime approach, I define humanitarian crime (or complicity in state and corporate crime) as acts that (a) entail the violation of human rights and (b) are recognised to have infringed an established rule by a social audience, for which it is willing to apply sanctions (Green and Ward, 2004, p.4). The latter part of this definition hinges on the concept of organisational deviance-that is, decisions to break with legal norms and expected standards of conduct in pursuit of illegitimate goals. My PhD further expands upon the state crime framework by considering the means, goals and pressures that motivate deviant organisational behaviours in the humanitarian field.

This Fellowship aims to have multiple impacts on institutional behaviour by widely disseminating the findings of my research and engaging directly with humanitarian practitioners and the broader public on the subject of humanitarian crime and prevention. First, I will consolidate my scholarly contributions to the field of criminology through two publications that will advance my concept and theorisation of humanitarian crime. Second, to have impact on humanitarian communities of practice, I will develop a policy brief and organise an inter-sectoral workshop for humanitarian organisations to disseminate the findings of my research and elicit feedback on concepts of humanitarian crime and ways that humanitarian organisations can refrain from committing or becoming complicit in harms that receive social opprobrium as crime. The aim of the workshop and policy brief is to spark new conversations with humanitarian actors that go beyond bureaucratic discussions of humanitarian principles, conduct norms, and accountability, and instead invite critical reflection about organisational behaviours that achieve the social stigma of crime, as informed by my research. The workshop's discussion with humanitarian practitioners will also guide the development of a podcast and opinion pieces about the nature and drivers of humanitarian crime for wider public dissemination. These outputs will specifically target civil society actors that play a role in monitoring and sanctioning the deviant acts and decisions of states and humanitarian actors that entail human rights violations. Finally, I will use the fellowship to develop new methodological approaches for the study of institutional harm and crime. By acquiring new skills in social network analysis, I will develop a proposal for the next stage of my career that will focus the political economy of technological providers in the humanitarian field and the diffusion of norms, ethics, and extractive practices that take place within these networks.


10 25 50