IR300: The Politics and Prevention of Genocide and Other Mass Atrocities

International Relations

Course Content

Why do men (and women) kill? Why do they kill in large numbers? How do they kill? What, if anything, is gained by destroying, in whole or in part, a real or imagined enemy? And what can be done to eradicate this ‘odious scourge’ of humankind (as genocide has been described), which has claimed more than 100 million lives in the past century? This highly policy-relevant course explores these and related questions by providing an introduction to the study and prevention of genocide and other mass atrocities. It is aimed at undergraduate students interested in international politics and international human rights policy and law. Students could also come from the policy-making and NGO communities, and from those wishing to embark on a career in the policy-making and/or NGO communities in this area

In the first part of the course, we cover the origins and development of major killing campaigns, their impact on the maintenance of international peace and security, and their consequences for the reconstruction and development of states and the building of nations. In the second part, we assess the prospects for preventing genocide and other mass atrocities, by analysing the role that domestic and international courts and tribunals have played in the punishment of international crimes (such as genocide and crimes against humanity); the development and spread of prevention norms, such as the responsibility to protect; and the creation of preventive policies by the international community, notably the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.

Throughout the course, we will discuss many empirical cases, ranging from colonial times to the present, and including the Americas, Australia, South West Africa, the Ottoman Empire, the Soviet Union, Germany, East Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Cambodia, Guatemala, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sudan and Syria. We also will show selections from films, such as The Act of Killing and Srebrenica: A Cry from the Grave, during the lectures to illustrate the complexity of genocide and mass atrocities.



Christian Gerlach, Extremely Violent Societies: Mass Violence in the Twentieth-Century World (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Jens Meierhenrich, Genocide: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Jens Meierhenrich, ed., Genocide: A Reader (Oxford University Press, 2014).

William A Schabas, Genocide in International Law: The Crime of Crimes, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Karen E. Smith, Genocide and the Europeans (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

*A more detailed reading list will be supplied prior to the start of the programme

**Course content, faculty and dates may be subject to change without prior notice


Dates:  To be confirmed

Lecturer: Dr Jens Meierhenrich Professor Karen E Smith

Level: 300 level

Fees: Click here for information

Prerequisites: At least one intermediate course in either social science (e.g. political science, international relations, sociology, economics), history or law

Lectures: 36 hours 

Classes: 18 hours

Assessment*: One essay and one written examination

Typical credit**: 3 credits (US) 7.5 ECTS points (EU)

How to apply?

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*assessment is optional – see FAQs

**You will need to check with your home institution. Read more about credit transfer here.