Architectures of Violence

The Command Structures of Modern Mass Atrocities

Kate Ferguson

Most atrocities are committed by states yet they hide their culpability by recourse to paramilitary forces, as Ferguson explains.

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Architectures of Violence Hardback
October 2020£35.00
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Paramilitary or irregular units have been involved in practically every case of identity-based mass violence in the modern world, but detailed analysis of these dynamics is rare. Exploring the case of former Yugoslavia, the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur, and the ongoing violence in Syria, Kate Ferguson exposes the relationships between paramilitaries, state commands, local communities, and organised crime. She presents these ‘architectures of violence’ as a way of comprehending how the various structures of command and control fit together into domestic and international webs of support enabling and encouraging irregular and paramilitary violence.

Visible paramilitary participation masks the continued dominance of the state in violent crises. Political elites benefit from using unconventional forces to fulfil ambitions that violate international law—and international policy responses are hindered when responsibility for violence is ambiguous. Ferguson’s inquiry into these overlooked dynamics of mass violence unveils substantial loopholes in current atrocity prevention architecture.


Kate Ferguson is Director of Research & Policy at the human rights NGO Protection Approaches, and Research Associate at the School of History, University of East Anglia, where she teaches on subjects of human rights, international justice, and humanitarianism. She tweets as @WordsAreDeeds.