International criminal law Notes - Law

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This article is about international criminal law and crimes against international law. For crimes that have actual or potential effect across national borders, see Transnational crime.

International criminal law is a body of public international law designed to prohibit certain categories of conduct commonly viewed as serious atrocities and to make perpetrators of such conduct criminally accountable for their perpetration. The core crimes under international law are genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression. This article also discusses crimes against international law, which may not be part of the body of international criminal law.
"Classical" international law governs the relationships, rights, and responsibilities of states. Criminal law generally deals with prohibitions addressed to individuals, and penal sanctions for violation of those prohibition imposed by individual states. International criminal law comprises elements of both in that although its sources are those of international law, its consequences are penal sanctions imposed on individuals.


Background

International criminal law is best understood as an attempt by the international community to address the most grievous atrocities. It has not been an ideal instrument to make the fine and nuanced distinctions typical of national law, for these shift focus from those large scale atrocities that "shock the conscience" with which it is concerned. This creates significant differences of analysis between the legal systems, notably for the concept of legal intent.


History

Some precedents in international criminal law can be found in the time before World War I. However, it was only after the war that a truly international crime tribunal was envisaged to try perpetrators of crimes committed in this period. Thus, the Treaty of Versailles stated that an international tribunal was to be set up to try Wilhelm II of the German Empire. In the event, however, the Kaiser was granted asylum in the Netherlands. After World War II, the Allied powers set up an international tribunal to try not only war crimes, but crimes against humanity committed by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The Nuremberg Tribunal held its first session in 1945 and pronounced judgments on 30 September / 1 October 1946. A similar tribunal was established for Japanese war crimes (the International Military Tribunal for the Far East). It operated from 1946 to 1948.
After the beginning of the war in Bosnia, the United Nations Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1993 and, after the genocide in Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 1994. The International Law Commission had commenced preparatory work for the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court in 1993; in 1998, at a diplomatic conference in Rome, the Rome Statute establishing the ICC was signed. The ICC issued its first arrest warrants in 2005.


Sources of International criminal law

International criminal law is a subset of international law. As such, its sources are the same as those that comprise international law. The classical enumeration of those sources is in Article 38(1) of the 1946 Statute of the International Court of Justice and comprise: treaties, customary international law, general principles of law (and as a subsidiary measure judicial decisions and the most highly qualified juristic writings). The Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court contains an analogous, though not identical, set of sources that the court may rely on.

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