Start of Main Content

Mass Atrocities Perpetrated by Non-State Actors

Most episodes of mass atrocities over the course of history have been perpetrated by states. As a result, most scholarship on mass atrocities has focused on understanding why states choose to attack large numbers of civilians and how they can be prevented from doing so. In recent years, however, some of the most visible and egregious campaigns of mass atrocities have been committed by non-state groups, such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. 

Future efforts to prevent atrocities should be informed by a greater understanding of the ways in which non-state mass atrocities are similar to and different from those committed by states.