Atrocity Actors; Perpetrators, Bystanders and Victims

2019-2020

Course Objective

1. Students should have knowledge of, and insight into, selected
theories that explain the behaviour of perpetrators and bystanders
during conflict situations as well as the consequences thereof for the
victims.

2. Students should be able to explain these theories on the behaviour
of perpetrators and bystanders as well as evaluate their relevance for
particular case studies.

3. Students should be able to apply the theories to various situations
and case studies involving conflict related crimes and mass atrocities.

4. Students should be able to analyse the etiology and consequences of
conflict related crimes on a micro- and meso-level through a sound
academic argumentation.

5. Students need to show evidence of a critical attitude in relation to
existing theories and an original, investigative and creative attitude
in their application and analysis to the case studies.

6. Students should have insight into, and be able to critically reflect
upon, the role of perpetrators, bystanders and victims in different
transitional justice mechanisms after the conflict has ended.

Course Content

This course focuses on the perpetrators, bystanders and victims of mass
atrocities and other conflict related crimes. It will be explained how
and why perpetrators are able to commit such atrocious acts and why
bystanders decide to intervene or remain passive. In addition, the
consequences of these crimes for the victims will be discussed. In doing
so the course has an interdisciplinary nature including, for instance,
social-psychology, history and political science.

Throughout the course we will discuss and debate the thesis that
perpetrators of international crimes are merely ordinary people who
commit their crimes because they find themselves in extraordinary
circumstances. Students will get acquainted with various classic
socio-psychological experiments such as Milgram's obedience experiment,
the Stanford prison experiment and Asch’s conformity experiment and
discuss their implications. We will also discuss the role that ideology
plays for the perpetrators and, because atrocity crimes are often
perpetrated by militarized units, we will also touch upon military
training and its effects on individuals. In addition, the course will
discuss the most relevant ‘bystander theories’ such as Darley and
Latane's observations on the ‘bystander effect’ and the reasons why some
individuals decide to rescue the victims. With regards to the victims,
the consequences of mass atrocities for victims will be discussed as
well as their needs in a post-conflict setting. Furthermore, for all
three actors, their role in different transitional justice mechanisms
will be discussed, focusing in particular on international criminal
trials and Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.

Teaching Methods

Workshops

Method of Assessment

Written assignments

Literature

Alette Smeulers and Fred Grunfeld: International Crimes and Other Gross
Human Rights Violations, A Multi- and Interdisciplinary Textbook,
Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2011

Online articles and texts to be announced via Canvas.

Target Audience

Apart from regular students, the course is also available for:
Students from other universities/faculties
Exchange students
Contractor (students who pay for one course)

The extracurricular and exchange students should send a cv to Maartje
Weerdesteijn (m.weerdesteijn@vu.nl) and get approval for their
participation.

Custom Course Registration

A maximum of 50 students may attend this course.

General Information

Course Code R_Perp.bysta
Credits 6 EC
Period P4
Course Level 500
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Law
Course Coordinator dr. M. Weerdesteijn MSc
Examiner dr. M. Weerdesteijn MSc
Teaching Staff dr. M. Weerdesteijn MSc

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Teaching Methods Lecture, Study Group
Target audiences

This course is also available as: