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School of Law

International Criminal Law in Context

Course Code:
15PLAH041
Unit value:

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate:

  1. a clear understanding of the relevant international human rights and international humanitarian laws governing activities in armed conflict;
  2. the ability to critically analyse existing and proposed international criminal law;
  3. a clear understanding of the actual violations that occur in the context of contemporary armed conflicts;
  4. apply the law to specific case studies, real and hypothetical;
  5. a clear understanding of how violations are punished or otherwise addressed in practice before national, international, and hybrid courts;
  6. the ability to present and defend an argument and debate it with colleagues.

Students will demonstrate this knowledge through written essays and memos, and class presentations of memos along with responses to other memos.  Students will be encouraged to participate actively in class through those presentations and responses.

Scope and syllabus

This module considers the development and application of international criminal accountability in contemporary armed conflicts.

The course proceeds in three parts.

It first considers the constraints that international humanitarian law and human rights law place upon actors in both internal and international armed conflict, and the development of individual criminal accountability for international crimes.  This involves particular consideration of the challenges posed by internal armed conflict and non-state armed groups, where relatively little international law has direct effect.

It second considers the scope and effects of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in a number of contemporary armed conflicts, using recent and current case studies.

It third considers the responses that have been taken in the wake of armed conflict to punish violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law, through prosecutions and other procedures in domestic courts of countries that have experienced conflict and distant countries, through ad hoc international criminal tribunals and hybrid war crimes tribunals.  This final section concludes with a discussion of the early work of the International Criminal Court in countries such as Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya. 

The course design will build upon and be complementary to courses on the law of armed conflict, but will take a more interdisciplinary approach with an historical, political, and anthropological approach to the harms committed in specific conflicts and the myriad legal responses that have been designed to address those harms.

Topics of Study:
Term 1
  1. Contemporary conflicts and legal responses to abuses: overview and general issues
  2. Legal violations in armed conflict: overview of relevant international humanitarian and international human rights law,
  3. Case study in conflict and international crimes: Sierra Leone
  4. Case study in conflict and international crimes: Democratic Republic of Congo
  5. Case study in political violence and international crimes: Kenya
  6. Promoting accountability transnationally: universal jurisdiction
  7. Promoting accountability transnationally: civil accountability
  8. Promoting accountability in the zone of (post) conflict: mixed or hybrid tribunals
  9. The ICC: Mandate, powers, and limitations
  10. The ICC’s caseload: lessons to date
  11. Revision

Method of assessment

Assessment weighting:  100% coursework (one 5000 word essay - 75%; one 1500 word essay - 20%; an oral presentation in class - 5%).  All written coursework may be resubmitted.