Res Publica

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 411–419 | Cite as

Complicity and Criminal Liability in Rwanda: A Situationist Critique



In Complicity and the Rwandan Genocide (2010b), Larry May argues that complicity can be the basis for criminal liability if two conditions are met: First, the person’s actions or inactions must contribute to the harm in question, and secondly, the person must know that his actions or inactions risk contributing to this harm. May also states that the threshold for guilt for criminal liability is higher than for moral responsibility. I agree with this latter claim, but I think that it casts doubt on May’s account of criminal liability, particular in so-called performance cases in which low-level participants merely fail to help. This is because it is far from clear that passive non-helpers are morally responsible for their participation in widespread harms. Situationism purports to show that passive bystanders typically are not morally responsible for their role in such harms, because they were behaving reasonably subject to the constraints they faced. In this paper, I assess this claim, and defend it on the basis of O. W. Holmes’ standard of the reasonable person as a guide to judging criminal complicity. Finally, I provide a situationist account of the Rwandan genocide, which focuses on the systemic causes and primary perpetrators of the genocide, rather than low-level participants.


Complicity Responsibility Rwanda Situationism Social psychology 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.York UniversityTorontoCanada

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