X. Perpetrators of International Crimes: Towards a Typology

A.Smeulers & R. Haveman (eds.) (2008) Supranational Criminology: towards a criminology of international crimes, Antwer: Intersentia

34 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2014

Date Written: January 22, 2014


International crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are extreme forms of collective violence. Lawyers tend to refer to these crimes as structural criminality or system criminality. Criminologists would qualify this type of criminality as state crime, organizational crime or political crime. These types of crime are usually committed in a context of mass violence, on behalf of the state, within a group or by members of a specific governmental or militarized unit or organization. In some cases thousands of ordinary people get involved. How can this be explained? How can it be explained that large numbers of otherwise ordinary and law-abiding citizens become involved in genocide or other international crimes? The central focus of this chapter will be on the perpetrator of international crimes, not merely on the physical perpetrators but on all those who somehow become involved in the crimes. Perpetrators differ in their motives, the roles they play and the situation within which they operate. The main aim of this chapter is to create a typology of perpetrators in order to better understand the specific role individual perpetrators play in bringing about and preserving a period of collective violence. Telford Taylor, the Public Prosecutor at the Nuremberg-trials after the Second World War, said that crimes are committed by individuals, not by abstract entities. By creating a typology of perpetrators this paper aims to give the individuals functioning within these abstract (and destructive) entities a ‘human face’ and thus provide a tool to enhance understanding of the interpersonal relationships, the group dynamics and other underlying psycho-sociological mechanisms which can help us comprehend the root causes of international crimes. Such knowledge is a prerequisite to developing effective preventative measures and crucial to administering justice fairly. A typology of perpetrators can furthermore be used as a theoretical framework to attribute individual criminal responsibility and impose fair and just sentences which match the actual blameworthiness of the individual perpetrators and which do justice to their individual responsibilities within the collective.

Keywords: International crimes; genocide; crimes against humanity; war crimes; perpetrators

Suggested Citation

Smeulers, Alette, X. Perpetrators of International Crimes: Towards a Typology (January 22, 2014). A.Smeulers & R. Haveman (eds.) (2008) Supranational Criminology: towards a criminology of international crimes, Antwer: Intersentia, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2383085

Alette Smeulers (Contact Author)

Univeristy of Groningen ( email )

9700 AS Groningen

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