International crimes are so atrocious that we instinctively distance ourselves from these crimes and the perpetrators thereof. But who are these perpetrators and why do they commit such atrocious crimes? Who was responsible and involved in the gassings in Auschwitz, the torture in the cellars of secret prisons; the abuse and humiliation at Abu Ghraib, the mass slaughter in Uganda, the rapes in DR Congo, the poison gas attacks in Syria? Why do people commit such crimes? Are they all sadists? Who are the people who torture maim and kill? Were Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic born dictators? What made them so cruel, so evil? And what about people like Adolf Eichmann, Alfredo Astiz, Duch and Eugene de Kock? Are they devoted warriors and loyal followers or sadists and extremists? Who were the people running the death camps, the torture chambers, the execution sites? Are they anti-Semites, sadists, racists, criminals or just loyal followers of the state?

Scientific research has shown that many perpetrators of international crimes are just ordinary people and that next to a limited number of sadists, racists and psychopaths – many ordinary and otherwise law-abiding citizens who committed crimes of obedience are involved. They are ordinary people in extra-ordinary circumstances. But what made them commit such atrocities? How can ordinary people be involved in such cruel behaviour? What can we learn from the laboratory experiments conducted by Milgram, Zimbardo and Ash? How significant are their findings? Can we use them to explain the behaviour of perpetrators of international crimes? What are the mechanisms at play? Why do people obey orders? Why do they feel compelled to obey orders? Would all people feel compelled to obey orders or just a certain segment of the people? What are the characteristics of people who do obey and don’t obey? What are the mechanisms underlying obedience? How are recruits trained? Why are they trained that way? How can we prevent them from committing international crimes? How can we train them to distinguish legitimate orders from illegitimate orders? What are atrocity producing situations? How can we recognize atrocity producing situations? How can we prevent people from committing crimes in atrocity producing situations.

These are just some of the many themes and questions which could be addressed in a lecture, course, workshop or training. Next to general topics lectures can focus on specific groups of perpetrators such as child soldiers, female perpetrators, dictators or specific perpetrators.


Rwanda onderwijs


  • - Conformism and obedience
  • - Atrocity producing situations
  • - Milgram experiment
  • - Zimbardo experiment
  • - Ash Experiment
  • - Group dynamics
  • - Transformatieprocess
  • - Perpetrator typology
  • - Dictators
  • - Female perpetrators
  • - Child soldiers
  • - Case studies

    Target audience

    Lectures, workshops, courses and training on these themes can be given to almost any audience: professionals, policy makers, lawyers, people working at NGOs, police officers, soldiers, fellow scholars, students, schoolchildren or the general public. Single lectures of 45 minutes up to 2 hours can be given but also workshops which last half a day, a training which can last from half day up to one week or a complete course which is taught in regularly weekly meetings during a full semester.

    Lectures and training can also be given for instance to professionals such as police men, prison wardens, soldiers and peacekeepers who might at some point in their professional career find themselves in atrocity producing situations. In a training they can be taught how to recognize the dangers of the situation and the dynamics of the transformation process in order to make them aware of the danger and able to counter the danger.


    Alette Smeulers has many years of experience in teaching academic courses on international crimes in academia. She has given many lectures and guest lectures on international crimes and has presented numerous papers on these themes. She has given these lectures and presented papers to a huge variety of audiences. All her courses and papers were very well evaluated.

    Academic courses taught
  • - Modernity, identity and evil - Bachelor - Tilburg University (2015-2016)
  • - International criminology – honours studenten – Tilburg University (2013-2014)
  • - International crimes and Criminology – Bachelor course – University of Liege, Belgium (2012-2013)
  • - Perpetrators and Bystanders of International Crimes – Master course– VU University (2007-2011)
  • - The Atrocity Triangle – Bachelor course- University College Maastricht (2002-2006)
  • - Causes of Gross Human Rights Violations – Master course – Maastricht University (1996- 2006)

Guest lectures and paper presentations

  • - International crimes: the perpetrators, University of Warwick, United Kingdom, 28 November 2014
  • - PAO-cursus Court The Hague, The Hague, 9 October 2014
  • - Female perpetrators - ordinary or extra-ordinary women? Conference Women in and at war, Warwick University, United Kingdom, 19 September 2014
  • - Perpetrator groups, Conference European Society of Criminology (ESC), Prague, Czeck Republic, 11 Sepember 2014
  • - The micro-dynamics of mass atrocities, Conference International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP), Rome, Italy, 4 July 2014.
  • - Daders van internationale misdrijven, International Crimes Squad, Dutch Police, Woerden, 1 July 2014
  • - The rise of new powerful armed groups, expert-meeting on criminal law in a global world order, Tilburg 19 June 2014.
  • - Internationale misdrijven een mannenzaak? Conference Dutch Society of Criminology, Leiden, 12 June 2014.
  • - Criminal Masterminds, International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), Siena, Italy, 19 June 2013.
  • - Perpetrators of international crimes, University of Leuven, Belgium, 16 April 2013.
  • - Perpetrators of international crimes, University of Tilburg, 9 October 2012.
  • - How do perpetrators justify atrocities, International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP), Chicago, United States, 6 July 2012.
  • - Groupsdynamics and the genocide in Rwanda, Dutch Criminology Conference, Leiden, 14 June 2012.
  • - When victims become perpetrators, World Society of Victimology (WSV), The Hague, 21 May 2012.
  • - In opdracht van de staat, Inaugural speech, Tilburg University, 27 April 2012.
  • - Perpetrators of international crimes, University of Leuven, 17 April 2012.
  • - Female perpetrators of international crimes, International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), Buenos Aires, Argentina, 19 July 2011. 
  • - Individuele aansprakelijkheid versus collectieve verantwoordelijkheid, Tilburg University, 4 December 2009.
  • - Attributing guilt and sentencing of various types of perpetrators, key note international expert-meeting in Amsterdam – 19 June 2009.
  • - Abuse at Abu Ghraib: a few bad apples?, European Society for Criminology (ESC), Edinburgh, Scotland, 4 September 2008.
  • - Functional bureaucrats and the commission of state crime, American Society of Criminology (ASC), Atlanta, United States, 14 November 2007.
  • - Perpetrators in former Yugoslavia, European Society of Criminology (ESC), Bologna 29 September 2007.
  • - Perpetrator motives, International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 12 July 2007.
  • - Daders en daders, Dutch Criminology Conference, Leiden, 14 June 2007.
  • - Perpetrators of international crimes and other gross human rights violations – Towards a typology, Key note Expert-meeting, Maastricht 13 April 2007.
  • - The banality of evil – revisited, European Society of Criminology (ESC), Tübingen, Germany 26 August 2006.
  • - A typology of perpetrators of international crimes, European Society of Criminology (ESC), Cracow, Poland, 2 September 2005.
  • - Folteraars en individuele strafrechtelijke aansprakelijkheid, University Leiden, 24 May 2005.
  • - What transforms perpetrators into gross human right violators?, ECPR, Turin, Italy, 22-27 March 2002.
  • - The role of the perpetrator and the bystander in gross human right violations, Yad Vashem conference, Jerusalem, Israel 1999 (together with F. Grünfeld).
  • - Het gezicht van de beul, Amnesty International in Leeuwarden, April 1998.
  • - Wie zijn de beulen en folteraars?, School of Human Rights, Maastricht 20 December 1996.
  • - Het gezicht van de beul, Amnesty International, in November 1996.