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I am looking for a word or phrase to communicate someone who has committed what amounts to crimes against humanity, but who is not a politician or a soldier or military leader.

I want to describe the rubber barons (not robber barons) who exploited people in the Amazon basin at the turn of the 20th century. Not only did they enslave indigenous people to collect latex, but they also kept sex slaves, trafficked in human beings, drove out populations, murdered people, razed villages, etc. Here is a brief reference.

Someone who does this things might be called a war criminal, but these rubber barons were not military leaders, nor was there a war.

The term "slave driver" comes to mind, but slave-holding is not the limit of what they did, and also it has the connotation of a boss or overseer who simply works their employees too hard.

One might call them a "monster" or similar name, but that doesn't indicate the scale or specificity of their evil deeds.

Is there an apt phrase that would indicate the situation?

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  • Not really a good word for that, I'm thinking. "Butcher" is about the best I can do.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 17, 2016 at 2:10
  • despicable comes to mind...
    – Jim
    Mar 17, 2016 at 2:25
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    Capitalist thugs? Soulless profiteers? Mar 17, 2016 at 2:39
  • In some languages the word for "executioner" can also be used to describe a cruel person who mistreats others. For instance French bourreau or Russian палач. English seems to lack a counterpart word. Perhaps "oppressor", "tormentor", or "tyrant". Mar 17, 2016 at 2:40
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    A brief time in the google find that the deaths of indigenous people during the Amazon rubber boom totaled in the tens of thousands. If you listen closely, you can hear the ghost of King Leopold II of Belgium scoffing. He was responsible for the deaths of somewhere between 1M and 15M people in his fiefdom of the Congo. No one knows the number because he had the records burnt before he turned the territory over to the government of his country.
    – deadrat
    Mar 17, 2016 at 8:55

3 Answers 3

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I would use enslaver rather than slave driver, and also exploiter possibly in combination with an adjective like monstrous.

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The are capitalists. Their mistreatment of human beings came from the fact that they viewed those human beings as capital with a lower monetary value than the rubber. They did not recognize any social value in the people they abused. Only capital has value to capitalists.

You might be used to capitalists who are restrained by socialist laws like equal rights, minimum wage, maximum working hours, and so on. The rubber barons were not restrained by those laws. However, even in countries with those socialist traditions — like the United States — we still see indigenous people being driven off land because of mining, we still see sex slaves, we still see human rights abuses whenever people are viewed primarily as capital.

It is tempting to call the rubber barons “monsters” and try to separate ourselves from them. However, the truth is even worse: their kind of behavior is typical if it is not prevented by laws and customs that recognize social value and human dignity. Not just then but also today. That is why, for example, you hear Pope Francis preaching against “the evils of unfettered capitalism.” That is why U.S. Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders is running on a platform of strengthening democratic socialism in the United States as a counterbalance to the unrestrained capitalism that is destroying the global environment and causing massive social problems.

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  • Corrupt corporations and people can come from any form of government or country.
    – Skooba
    Mar 17, 2016 at 20:56
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"Capitalist" is a misuse of that word and ignores that the issue is the use of power against relatively powerless. Abuses of power are part and parcel of the human condition. Going back to the original question -- a term for a person who commits crime against humanity -- maybe "enemy of the people" fits.

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