Crimes against humanity, simple crime, and human dignity
Authors: Brownsword, R.
According to Geoffrey Robertson, the significance of the Nuremberg judgment was that it created. a free-standing and universal jurisdiction to prosecute those who direct or assist a crime so heinous that it is ‘against humanity’ because the very fact that a fellow human being could conceive and commit it demeans every member of the human race, wherever they live and whatever their culture or creed. On this account, crimes against humanity touch and concern not only those ‘millions of children, women and men [who] have been victims of unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock the conscience of humanity’; they touch and concern us all. Where crimes against humanity are committed, there is a sense in which we are all victims. At first blush, it might be thought that crimes of this order have little connection with the (civilian) research and development of modern biotechnologies. After all, as Robertson remarks, for the most part ‘crimes against humanity are committed by professional soldiers, blessed by religious leaders and tacitly approved by governments’. Yet, in some highly publicised respects, the research and development of biotechnologies has provoked widespread and deep controversy, to the point indeed of shocking the consciences of many people - recall, for example, the heated debates about the acceptability of reproductive and therapeutic cloning, gene therapy, genetic engineering, assisted conception, the use of human embryos as research tools and so on.