What are State Crimes Against Democracy (SCADs)?

The term State Crimes Against Democracy (SCADs) represents the first – and only – academic attempt to acknowledge that state crimes do not necessarily entail abuses of human rights, nor do they happen solely on territories which can be hardly described as functioning states. SCADs represent all sustained efforts by public officials to circumvent the constitutional system of checks and balances, the rule of law and/or popular control of government (deHaven-Smith, 2006), as well as other attempts by the state, state agencies and institutions, or agents acting in the name of the state, undertaken for the purposes of preserving the state’s influence and legitimacy (Dixon, Spehr and Burke, 2013).

If state crimes are controversial, then one could potentially argue SCADs are even more so. SCADs are attacks on ‘democracy’ – that is, a vague, controversial attempt to define a political system that has no one form – which may, or may not have a distinct, easily identifiable actor behind them; and which may, or may not result in harms that are immediately perceptible by the concerned citizens (Dixon, Spehr and Burke, 2013). Unlike other state-generated tragedies – such as genocides – SCADs do not result in physical damage to individual victims, nor do they necessarily take place in a specific time-frame (Hinson, 2013). As such, governmental attacks on democracy often vary greatly in form and execution, are systematic, and may come to be part of the national political culture, rather than isolated events. Not only are SCADs unlikely to be detected in the absence of an identifiable victim and/or perpetrator, but when – and if – they do come to the attention of relevant authorities (deHaven-Smith, 2006; deHaven-Smith and Witt, 2009), the judiciary often lacks the resources, capacity and independence to deploy effective, sustained inquiry (deHaven-Smith and Witt, 2009). The failure to respond appropriately to SCADs diminishes government trust by creating a separate standard of justice for high-ranking government officials (Hinson, 2013). In the meantime, growing tensions between the highly promoted democratic ideal and the somewhat liberal, yet also authoritarian reality undermine the stability of regimes, increasing the pressures for political reforms in established democracies, and hindering the consolidation process in newer and transitional democracies.