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Public International Law: International Criminal Law

This guide will help you find resources for researching public international law.

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL LAW

What is International Criminal Law?

While public international law is primarily concerned with the rights and obligations of States and international organisations, international criminal law is an exception - it is concerned with the rules and principles applying to individuals. 

Specific crimes that attract individual reponsibility at international law include:

  • Piracy 
  • Slavery
  • Genocide
  • Torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment
  • Aggression
  • Crimes against Humanity - these occur in the context of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population. Specified acts include murder, terrorism, extermination, enslavement, torture, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty, persecution, rape and sexual violenece, enforced disappearances.
  • War Crimes - these occur in the context of an armed conflict. Article 8(2) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court codifies war crimes and divides them into four categories - the first two relate to war crimes committed in the context of an international armed conflict and the second two relate to war crimes committed in the context of an internal armed conflict. The four categoroes are:
    1. Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions (Article 8(2)(a))
    2. Violations of Other Customary Rules (Article 8(2)(b))
    3. Serious violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions committed in the context of an internal armed conflict (Article 8(2)(c))
    4. Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in armed conflicts not of an international character (Article 8(2)(e))

For a concise summary of all War Crimes under the Rome Statute, over which the ICC has jurisdiction, and their source in International Humanitarian Law, see the comparative table produced by the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

Source: Stephen Hall, Principles of International Law (LexisNexis Butterworths, 4th ed, 2014) High Use KC 80

See also:

Recent Books on International Criminal Law

International Criminal Law Journals & Articles

International Criminal Law Journals held by the Law Library include:

Genocide Studies and Prevention

  • e-journal. Vol 1 (2006) to current

International Criminal Law Review

  • e-journal. Vol 1 (2001) to current

Journal of Genocide Research

  • e-journal. Vol 1 (1999) to current

Journal of International Criminal Justice

  • e-journal. Vol 1 (2003) to current

War Crimes, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

  • e-journal. Vol 1 (2005) - 5 (2011) ceased publication with vol 5

 

Recent full text articles and book chapters on SSRN (open access):

Robinson, Darryl, 'A Justification of Command Responsibility' (2017) Criminal Law Forum (Forthcoming) 

Baylis, Elena A, 'The Persuasive Authority of Internationalized Criminal Tribunals' (2017) 32 American University International Law Review 611 

Behrens, Paul, 'From Abstraction to Intent: The Law of Genocide and Its Insights into the Genocidal Mindset' (Edinburgh School of Law Research Paper No. 2017/01, January 30, 2017) 

Turner, Jenia Iontcheva, 'Defense Perspectives on Fairness and Efficiency at the International Criminal Court' in Oxford Handbook on International Criminal Law (OUP 2017, Forthcoming)

Bohler-Muller, Narnia & Zongwe, Dunia, 'It is Self-Defeating for Africa (and South Africa) to Withdraw from the International Criminal Court' (2017) 9 Namibia Law Journal

Rossi, Christopher R, 'Hauntings, Hegemony, and the Threatened African Exodus from the International Criminal Court' (May 16, 2017) Human Rights Quarterly, Forthcoming

Megret, Frederic, 'The Subjects of International Criminal Law' in Philip Kastner (ed) International Criminal Law in Context (Taylor and Francis, 2017) 

d'Aspremont, Jean, 'The Two Cultures of International Criminal Law'  in Oxford Handbook of International Criminal Law (OUP, 2017, forthcoming)

Latest International Criminal Law News from the UN

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International Criminal Law Treaties & Travaux

Travaux Prèparatoires

The UN Audiovisual Library of International Law's Criminal Law website (open access) contains the full text of all major ICL treaties, and their Travaux Prèparatoires, together with useful introductory summaries, current status of the conventions, photos, and videos.

The ICC Legal Tools database (open access) includes all International Criminal Court Preparatory Works, including Travaux Prèparatoires for amendments to the Rome Statute to include the crime of Aggression.

For Travaux not available online, check the Library catalogue - some are available in print only and are published as books.

Some Travaux are published online and in print form - for example, The Travaux Prèparatoires of the Crime of Aggression is available in the Law Library at  KC 218 A4 TRAV, and as an e-book (UniMelb staff & student access), as well as on the ICC Legal Tools database (open access).

Commentaries on the Rome Statute

Commentaries on the Rome Statute

The following resources provide article by article commentary on all 128 Articles of the Rome Statute. They include relevant case law and academic commentary.

The Commentary on the Law of the International Criminal Court includes the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court - a regularly updated open access database, edited by Dr Mark Klamberg.

See also:

Online Encyclopaedias

Oxford Bibliographies - International Law  provides authoritative encyclopedic entries and annotated bibliographies on a range of topics including international criminal lawcrimes against humanityaggressiontorturegenocidepiracyhybrid international criminal tribunals and international courts.

The Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law  contains comprehensive and authoritative overviews of all aspects of international law. Entries are arranged alphabetically by topic under broad subjects such as international criminal law and international courts and tribunals

Universal Jurisdiction

Universal jurisdiction is the ability of the court of any State to try persons for crimes committed outside its territory that are not linked to the State by the nationality of the suspect or the victims or by harm to the state’s own national interests. 

An example of universal jurisdiction is the trial and conviction of Hissène Habré in 2016 by the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal (EAC), in which the Senagalese domestic courts found the former Head of State of Chad criminally responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. These crimes were committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990. The Statute of the Extraordinary African Chambers created the EAC to prosecute these international crimes. It was an ad hoc chamber established within the Senegalese courts by agreement between the African Union and the government of Senegal. More on the trial and its significance from AfricLaw. More on the EAC from the International Justice Monitor. 

Amnesty International has published UNIVERSAL JURISDICTION: A PRELIMINARY SURVEY OF LEGISLATION AROUND THE WORLD - 2012 UPDATE

High Profile ICC Prosecutions

Oxford University Press's free resource, High-profile prosecutions at the International Criminal Court: heads of state, immunities, and arrestsmaps scholarly commentary on the international law aspects of a number of high-profile prosecutions at the International Criminal Court, including those of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy-President William Ruto, and Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir. The map looks specifically at questions of immunity, the obligation to arrest and surrender, the impact of Kenya’s possible withdrawal from the Rome Statute, and Ruto’s and Kenyatta’s obligations to  be present throughout their trials. It brings together discussions in English-language legal blogs and a selection of journal articles.

Websites & Databases

The ICC Legal Tools database (open access) includes:

  • ICC Documents: basic legal documents and the public decisions;
  • ICC 'Preparatory Works' and Statute Amendments: more than 9,000 documents related to the negotiation of the ICC Statute, Rules of Procedure and Evidence, and Elements of Crime documents, as well as documents related to amendments to the ICC Statute;
  • International Legal Instruments: a collection of key treaties;
  • Other International Law Decisions and Documents: documents of the International Court of Justice, International Law Commission, UN General Assembly and UN Security Council;
  • Human Rights Law Decisions and Documents: decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and documents of the UN human rights system;
  • International(ised) Criminal Jurisdictions (Basic Documents): basic legal documents of all the international(ised) criminal jurisdictions;
  • International(ised) Criminal Decisions: public decisions of the international(ised) criminal jurisdictions;
  • National Jurisdictions: basic documents on the legal system and status of core international crimes;
  • National Implementing Legislation: national implementing legislation, including access to the specialized National Implementing Legislation Database;
  • National Cases Involving Core International Crimes: the largest collection of such case documents;
  • Publications: publications relevant to work on international criminal law;
  • United Nations War Crimes Commission: the public part of the archive of the UN War Crimes Commission, included case-related documents;
  • International(ised) Fact-Finding Mandates: documents on international(ised) fact-finding mandates.

A particularly useful feature of this database is national legislation and cases from multiple jurisdictions - the basic documents of the legal systems of national jurisdictions and status of core international crimes; Implementing legislation of national jurisdictions; and National Cases Involving Core International Crimes

 

The International Criminal Tribunals: A Visual Overview, produced by the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School, provides an introduction to the work of the international tribunals and the conflicts which led to their establishment.

  • The report provides analysis and information, through written summaries and detailed visualisations, about each of the existing international tribunals: the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
  • The report reviews the conflicts that led to the establishment of each court; their costs and funding; the crimes the courts are charging, the status of each case, and their conviction rates; sentencing; and reparations.
  • The full text PDF of the report is available via this link.

 

The Ad Hoc Tribunals Oral History Projectbegun in 2014 by the  International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis University, seeks to preserve the voices of those individuals who worked to bring justice to Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and who contributed to the development and “institutionalization” of international criminal law during the early years of the ICTY and ICTR. The project aims to evaluate the challenges, successes, and mistakes of the Tribunals and to obtain insights into what the Ad Hoc Tribunals have and have not been able to achieve.

 

The International Tribunals Archive is organised and managed by the Library of Congress to digitally store relevant websites hosting information about the most important international tribunals created since World War II. More about the Archive.

 

The UN's Prevention of Genocide website contains detailed information about the role of the UN in the prevention of genocide, key UN documents, General Assembly debates, press releases and current news.

 

The UN's Refworld website contains legislation, cases, government and NGO reports, statistics and commentary arranged under broad topics such as international criminal law and international crimes.

 

Coalition for the International Criminal Court - The Security Council holds a biannual debate on protection of civilians in armed conflict during which many states and UN officials reiterate the crucial role of the ICC in this effort. This site has documents under the Resolutions and Topics link as well Government and Inter-governmental Documents, NGO Letters, Papers, Reports, and Statements, and NGO Media Statements.

International Criminal Law Courts & Cases

Tip: while many decisions may be available on several databases, as listed below, the databases do not replicate each others' content, and they may vary in coverage and search methods - so it is always worth trying several databases. For example, decisions of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda are on both the Oxford Reports on International Law and on Westlaw. The Westlaw version is is not browseable - it is only searchable by entering search terms, whereas the Oxford version can only be browsed. Both methods may reveal results that the other does not.

FINDING DECISIONS FROM MULTIPLE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURTS & TRIBUNALS WITH A SINGLE SEARCH 

  • The ICC Legal Tools database (open access) includes decisions and other documents (warrants, pre-trial documentation, submissions, directions and orders) from the permanent International Criminal Court and all ad hoc tribunals: the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (IMT) and and Other Tribunals in Europe After WWII; the Tokyo and Allied Tribunals in the Far East After WWII Decisions; International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia; Special Court for Sierra Leone; Special Tribunal for Lebanon; the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia; The Bosnian War Crimes Chamber; Special Panels for Serious Crimes of the Dili District Court; and Iraq High Tribunal. This database has a sophisticated search engine, and can also be browsed.
  • The Oxford Reports on International Law (UniMelb staff & student access) contain decisions from the International Criminal Court, Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

 

FINDING DECISIONS FROM INDIVIDUAL INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURTS & TRIBUNALS

PERMANENT COURT

The International Criminal Court

ICC website

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was created and is governed by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (UNTS 2187, 3). It is an independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, aggression, crimes against humanity and war crimes (Article 5 of the Rome Statute). The ICC is not part of the United Nations system. Its seat is at The Hague in the Netherlands.

Decisions of the ICC are available in full text on:

 

AD HOC / HYBRID TRIBUNALS

Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals Case Law Database

The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals ('MICT') began operating in 2010 in parallel with the ICTR and the ICTY. It will continue to operate after the closure of these two Tribunals. The ICTR closed on 31 December 2015 and the ICTY is expected to close at the end of 2017. More about the MICT.

The UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals Case Law Database is a gateway to the jurisprudence of the ICTRICTY, and MICT Appeals Chambers. It provides extracts of key judgments and decisions rendered by the ICTR, ICTY, and MICT Appeals Chambers since their inception, as well as to full-text versions of the corresponding appeal judgments and decisions. More about the Case Law Database.

 

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

The ICTR was established by the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (1994). The ICTR closed on 31 December 2015.

ICTR website

Judgments and other documents regarding each case, such as indictments, minutes and orders, are available on:

  • the UN's ICTR website (open access)
  • the ICTR Basic Documents & Caselaw website (open access)
  • the ICC Legal Tools database (open access).
  • Westlaw - coverage is from 1995 - Jul 2007 (UniMelb staff & student access). Once in Westlaw, choose International Materials on the home page, then Other International Jurisdictions on the next page, then Rwanda on the next page. You will then arrive at the Tribunal decisions database.
  • Oxford Reports on International Law (UniMelb staff & student access)

 

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

The ICTY was established by the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (1993).

ICTY website

Judgments are available:

  • on the ICTR Judgments website (open access)
  • ICC Legal Tools database (open access)
  • on Westlaw - includes judgments, decisions, orders, indictments, and transcripts, legal documents such as rules of procedure and evidence and practice directions, and press releases. Once in Westlaw, choose International Materials on the home page, then Other International Jurisdictions on the next page, then Yugoslavia on the next page. You will then arrive at the Tribunal decisions database.

Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina - The Bosnian War Crimes Chamber (BWCC)

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a hybrid tribunal - a domestic court of the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina that includes international judges and prosecutors. It was established on 3 July 2002 by the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Under the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, matters that fall under the jurisdiction of the Court include terrorism, war crimes, human trafficking, organised crime and economic crimes.

Decisions of the BWCC are available on the ICC Legal Tools database (open access). 

 

Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon was established by the 2007 Agreement between the United Nations and the Lebanese Republic on the establishment of a Special Tribunal for LebanonThe mandate of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is to prosecute persons responsible for the attack of 14 February 2005 resulting in the death of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and in the death or injury of other persons. 

The cases link on official STL website contains all public documents, such as indictments, judgments and transcripts, from all cases at the STL. 

Decisions are also available on the ICC Legal Tools database (open access).

 

The Special Panels for Serious Crimes (SPSC)

The Special Panels of the Dili District Court (also called the East Timor Tribunal) was the hybrid international–East Timorese tribunal that was created in 2000 by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) to try cases of 'serious criminal offences' which took place in East Timor in 1999. The Special Panels sat from 2000 to 2006.

Decisions of the SPSC are available on the open access ICC Legal Tools database.

 

The Iraq High Tribunal (IHL)

The Iraq High Tribunal was established as a domestic court within the national judicial structure. Unlike other as hoc international criminal courts and tribunals, the IHT was not established by treaty or United Nations resolution. The Tribunal Statute provides jurisdiction for certain international crimes committed by Iraqis during the Ba’athist regime, which lasted from July 1968 to May 2003. Article 10 of the Statute includes crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes that were previously unknown to Iraqi law. 

Decisions of the SPSC are available on the open access ICC Legal Tools database.

 

Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL)

The SCSL was established by the Statute for the Special Court for Sierra Leone (2002) to to address serious crimes against civilians and UN peacekeepers committed during the country's decade-long (1991-2002) civil war. The SCSL was the world's first 'hybrid' international criminal tribunal. The Tribunal has completed all its cases and closed in 2013.

The Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone (RSCSL) was established by the 2012 Residual Special Court Agreement (Ratification) Act to oversee the continuing legal obligations of the SCSL after its closure. The RSCSL will remain in existence until all sentences have been served. The residual obligations of the Residual Court include witness protection, supervision of prison sentences, and management of the SCSL archives.

The RSCSL website contains the trial transcripts judgments of the Court, together with all official trial documents. Videos and transcripts are also available. 

SCSL decisions are also available on:

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

The 2003 Agreement between the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia concerning the prosecution under Cambodian law of crimes committed during the period of Democratic Kampuchea established the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed During the Period of Democratic Kampuchea (“Extraordinary Chambers”).

The official ECCC website includes court documents and live courtroom video streaming.  

Decisions are also available on: