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School of Law

International Criminal Law

Course Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Term 1

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

This subject will focus on individual accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide, including both the substantive law providing for such responsibility and the range of mechanisms available for holding individuals accountable. A student who has successfully completed this subject will have advanced and integrated understanding of the body of knowledge associated with international criminal law. In particular, the student will:

  • Understand the concept of individual criminal responsibility for international crimes
  • Understand the structure and theoretical assumptions of the core international crimes, as well as important modes of participation, such as command responsibility
  • Understand the historical development of international criminal law
  •  Recognise the relationship between national and international jurisdiction for the prosecutions of international crimes
  • Comprehend the basic workings of the permanent International Criminal Court

Scope and syllabus

This subject will provide a comprehensive overview of the emerging discipline of international criminal law. The discipline will be approached historically, theoretically, and critically. First, the course will examine the historical origins of the fundamental principle of international criminal law – individual criminal responsibility – and trace the evolution of the international criminal tribunals that apply that principle. Second, the course will explain the core theoretical assumptions of the subject, focusing in particular on the rationales for punishment (retribution, creating a historical record, promoting peace and reconciliation, etc.) and for the creation and operation of international criminal tribunals. Third, the course will take a critical look at the discipline’s core theoretical assumptions, asking whether alternatives to international trials might better achieve the discipline’s stated goals.
Principal topics in the subject include: 

  • The concept of individual criminal responsibility for violations of international law
  • The history of international criminal tribunals
  • Core crimes, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and aggression
  • Modes of participation, such as ordering and command responsibility
  • Defences, such as superior orders
  • Jurisdiction to prosecute international crimes
  • National prosecution of international crimes
  • The context within which the substantive law operates, examining matters such legal procedure, evidence, and fair trial rights

This course will allow students undertaking postgraduate courses looking at aspects of international law and justice to develop their understanding of the role of international criminal law and individual accountability as a feature of the international legal order.Whilst the exact structure and content of the course will vary from year to year, an indicative course structure would include:

  1.  Nature of international criminal law, development of individual criminal responsibility and objectives of international criminal law
  2. International tribunals
  3. Genocide
  4. Crimes against humanity
  5. War crimes
  6. Aggression
  7. Terrorism
  8. Torture
  9. ICC I: Origins and structure
  10. ICC II: Jurisdiction and admissibility
  11. ICC III: National prosecutions and complementarity

Method of assessment

Assessment weighting: 100% coursework (one 5,000 word essay). Resubmission of coursework regulations apply.

Suggested reading

Selected Chapters from the following books/E-Books:

Cassese et al, Cassese’s International Criminal Law (Oxford University Press: 2013)
Heller, The Nuremberg military tribunals and the origins of international criminal law (Oxford University Press: 2011)
Cassese et al, International criminal law: cases and commentary (Oxford University Press: 2010)
Bantekas, International criminal law (Hart: 2010)
Cryer et al, An introduction to international criminal law and procedure (Cambridge University Press: 2010)
Jones et al, International criminal practice (Oxford University Press: 2003)
Schbas, An introduction to the International Criminal Court (Cambridge University Press: 2011)
Fleck et al, The Handbook of International Humanitarian Law (Oxford University Press: 2008)
Swart et al, The legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (Oxford University Press: 2011)
Stahn et al, The International Criminal Court and complementarity: from theory to practice (Cambridge University Press: 2011)
Olásolo et al, The criminal responsibility of senior political and military leaders as principals to international crimes (Hart: 2009)
Byron, War crimes and crimes against humanity in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Manchester University Press: 2009)
Cassese, The Oxford Companion to international criminal justice (Oxford University Press: 2008)
Stigen , The relationship between the International Criminal Court and national jurisdictions: the principle of complementarity (M Nijhoff: 2008)
Kleffner, Complementarity in the Rome Statute and national criminal jurisdictions (Oxford University Press: 2008)
de Brouwer, Supranational criminal prosecution of sexual violence: the ICC and the practice of the ICTY and the ICTR (Intersentia: 2005)
Schabas, Unimaginable atrocities: justice, politics, and rights at the war crimes tribunals (Oxford University Press: 2012)
Sliedregt, Individual criminal responsibility in international law (Oxford University Press: 2012)
Stahn et al, The emerging practice of the International Criminal Court (M Nijhoff: 2009)
Tanaka et al, Beyond victor's justice? the Tokyo War Crimes Trial revisited (M Nijhoff: 2009)

Selected Articles from the following Journals (Accesses via WESTLAW, JSTOR, LEXIS, ETC):

American Journal of International Law
European Journal of International Law
Harvard International Law Journal
Human Rights Quarterly
International and Comparative Law Quarterly
International Criminal Law Review
International Journal of Transitional Justice
Journal of Genocide Research
Journal of International Criminal Justice
Leiden Journal of International Law
Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law
Michigan Journal of International Law
Yale Journal of International Law
Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law

Texts of relevant International Treaties, Judgments of International Courts and Tribunals and other material are available for free from the UN and the Courts' websites.