The Sarajevo Conference
Crimes such as murder, rape, thefts, destruction of property, illegal apprehension/imprisonment, and responses to these by criminal justice systems have been in the focus of criminology and criminologists ever since the establishment of criminology as a science. Traditionally, these crimes have been addressed as challenges to criminal justice systems and societies and were researched with the aim to help us understand why these crimes have been committed and to provide recommendations as to how societies in general, and criminal justice systems in particular, can respond to these so we can live in a better and safer world. And yet, despite so many years of criminologists’ dedicated work, these crimes still pose a challenge to nations as our fight against injustices within the criminal justice system and our fights for human rights is still far from being over.
At the same time, one cannot help but observing that these same crimes, when committed in particular times and under particular circumstances turn into crimes criminology has failed to address in an adequate manner. Looking into facts of the past century or so, Europe has been the place where offences such as genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity, and more recently terrorism, have been committed. Europeans have also been active participants in such crimes committed beyond the European soil. Yet, despite the fact that these crimes are associated with injustices beyond comprehension and despite the fact that these crimes make us feel more unsafe than ever, there is only a handful of criminological research addressing these crimes and challenges these crimes pose to societies and criminal justice systems. So far, these crimes had been primarily in the focus of historians, ethicists, political theorists, etc.
One could understand the state of affairs if one knows that in its early days criminologists have opted to research topics of common consensus (agreed upon crimes) and unanimously defined and identified “enemy” (offenders). It was needed at the time when a young and aspiring scientific discipline was to be accepted by the nation states and their governments. Otherwise, by focusing on crimes in which nation states and their governments could possibly be involved, criminologists would risk being observed as theorists detached from “real problems”, as controversial, and criminology as polemical and unscientific. But those days are long gone. And it is about time criminology and criminologists pay due attention to all types of crimes, irrespective of who the offender may be. It is about time that unspeakable mass atrocity crimes such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and terrorism get criminologists’ attention these deserve. At the same time, one should not be oblivious to the fact that we have still a lot of questions to answer when it comes to conventional crimes.
Maier-Katkin et al. (2009) point out to some of the facts that attracted the organizers’ attention. These facts are:
The number of violent deaths around the world is increasing, whereby more people have been dying as the result of mass atrocity crimes;
Crimes in general and crimes against humanity persist as threats to social stability and individual well-being; and such crimes raise fundamental questions about the role of a state in the administration of (criminal) justice;
Criminology has a long tradition of studying crimes under the assumption that each may involve different causes and motives;
Crimes against humanity pose a test to a number of existing criminological theories. Studying these and testing theories on these crimes would contribute to the overall explanatory power of criminology.
Criminologists in Europe have already shown, beyond any doubt, that they are very well equipped to bring light to the magnitude of any crime, to shed the light on the aetiology thereof, and to assess and evaluate a state’s response to a crime. And we strongly believe that this applies equally to both conventional and mass atrocity crimes.
In our view, the ESC 2018 Sarajevo conference, in addition to dealing with the usual topics criminologists are working on that one can broadly and generally define as “crimes against humans”, simply has to tackle “crimes against humanity” as well. It is so because at the beginning of the 20th century the World War I started with the event that took place in Sarajevo (assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Royal Prince of Hungary and of Bohemia). And, unfortunately, the very same century ended with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sarajevo have unfortunately been synonymous for “mass atrocity crimes” in Europe in the recent history. We therefore find the title “Crimes Against Humans and Crimes Against Humanity: Implications for Modern Criminology” fitting for the ESC 2018 Sarajevo conference.