A humanistic approach to bystander responsibility in cases of crimes against humanity and genocide

Johanna Nashi, Fordham University


My dissertation takes up the question: on what grounds is it possible to legitimately condemn bystander silence in cases of genocide and crimes against humanity? A central aspect of this project is establishing a causal connection between individual bystander actions (inaction) to the crimes of the perpetrators. I make this connection by identifying specific harms brought about by bystander silence. There are two types of harm attributable to bystander silence: (a) dignitary harm—bystander silence negates the individual victim's claim for security and humane treatment—and, (b) contributory harm—by tacitly consenting to the activities of the perpetrators bystanders help create an environment of permissibility that allows for increasing levels of harm and violence. In causing these harms, bystanders breach their basic moral duty to not allow violence and persecution to become an accepted practice within the community. There is a breach of duty that causes harm for which bystanders should be held responsible. The question remains how to describe that responsibility. I suggest that bystanders bear additive responsibility for harm suffered by victims—a kind of moral responsibility attributable to individuals when their ad hoc actions have brought about direct personal harms to individuals while also contributing to the systematic harms brought about by perpetrators.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Nashi, Johanna, "A humanistic approach to bystander responsibility in cases of crimes against humanity and genocide" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3512297.