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International Criminal Law

What is 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 responsibility 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 violence, enforced disappearances.
  • War Crimes - these occur in the context of 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

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