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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Law : Law

Postgraduate Course: International Criminal Law (LAWS11028)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Law CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits40 ECTS Credits20
SummaryThis course deals with one of the youngest and most dynamic branches of international law: the law that pertains to offences against the international community. The first part of the course deals with 'general' international criminal law' (history of international criminal law, its sources and institutions, and the general part of the substantial law). The second part discusses major crime categories which today constitute the substantial part of international criminal law: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The second part also contains a discussion of the future of international criminal law and alternatives to the judicial system.
Course description Teaching is by seminars and by independent research and discussion.

Student presentations form an integral part of the course (see below, Student Assessment and Guidance). Each seminar is dedicated to a specific subject area of international criminal law.

First Part (first semester):
The first part offers an introduction to international criminal law and discusses general questions of State jurisdiction over international crimes. It investigates the question whether there is a need for international criminal justice and explores the history of the subject area, with a particular emphasis on the trial of the major war criminals at Nuremberg. A further section is dedicated to the institutions of international criminal law that came into existence post Nuremberg, in particular, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Court, but also the so-called 'hybrid' or 'third generation' tribunals. It further deals with the principles and sources of international criminal law today and thus investigates principles such as 'nullum crimen sine lege' and 'in dubio pro reo' and their impact on the interpretation of international criminal law today.

Following the examination of these points which establish the framework for contemporary international criminal justice, the structure of international crimes is being discussed and critically assessed. That includes seminars on the principle of personal liability and the actus reus of the crime, including the contextual element and its particular position within the statutes of international criminal courts and tribunals today. It also includes an exploration of the mens rea and focuses in particular on the threepartite system which the Statute of the International Criminal Court in this regard envisages (mens rea referring to conduct, circumstances and consequences). Further discussions deal with grounds for the exclusion of criminal responsibility, with a particular focus on the defences of superior orders and duress, which have played a certain role in the application of international criminal justice to date. The course also deals with modes of perpetration, inchoate crimes, omissions and bars to the prosecution of international crimes.

Second Part (second semester)
The main part of the second semester will be dedicated to a discussion of the principal crime categories which are recognised in international criminal law today.

That includes genocide as a crime whose codification took place only in relatively recent history. The course will thus deal with the constituent elements of the crime and the question in how far they differentiate the crime from, eg, crimes against humanity. This includes a discussion of groups that are protected under the Genocide Convention and of the existence of a contextual element for this crime. Further topics include the position of specific genocidal intent (including the substantiality requirement of genocide and the concept of 'destruction'), as well as 'associated' forms of genocide (such as incitement to the crime).

Crimes against humanity form the second category under discussion. The contextual element, in particular, the requirement of an attack on a civilian population and the aspect of 'policy' forms an important part of the examination. Particular crimes will be discussed in more detail - in past years, these have included torture and enslavement, sexual crimes and persecutions.

The course further deals with war crimes as the oldest recognised category of international crimes. It thus reflects on the history of the crime and its development in domestic criminal law, but also on the impact of international humanitarian law on the evolution of war crimes. The basis of the discussions of this crime category is the Statute of the International Criminal Court, and particular focus emphasis is placed on the distinction that is made within this treaty between international and internal armed conflicts. Particular war crimes which are discussed in more detail, have in the past included attacks on undefended cities, plunder of public or private property, mistreatment of prisoners of war and the recruitment or enlistment of child soldiers.
Further sections of the course are dedicated to the most recent crime category (the crime of aggression) and to its elements (including the question whether the crime includes a 'leadership' element), but also to an investigation of the viability of prosecutions for that crime in light of the safeguards which had been agreed by the international community. The course also reflects on alternatives to international criminal justice and thus discusses truth and reconciliation commission, gacaca courts and other ways of dealing with the aftermath of international crimes.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. accurately assess and critically comment upon the concept and elements of international crimes, as well the sources, principles, history and institutions of international criminal law
  2. identify and critically appraise the role played by international criminal courts and tribunals in the resolution of post-conflict situations.
  3. critically evaluate the main challenges arising from the interpretation and application of international criminal law
  4. demonstrate an appropriate level of research skills in locating and evaluating instruments of international criminal law, academic opinion, but also sources on the factual background of these areas
  5. solve problems utilising the knowledge gained from the various seminars and work effectively as part of a group
Reading List
Reference will frequently be made to the following core texts:
Cassese, Antonio / Gaeta, Paola, International Criminal Law, Oxford 2013

Cryer, Robert / Friman, HÃ¥kon et al, An Introduction to International Criminal Law and Procedure, Cambridge 2014

Dixon, Rodney / Khan, Karim / Fulford, Adrian, Archbold: International Criminal Courts: Practice, Procedure and Evidence (Sweet & Maxwell) 2014

Werle, Gerhard / Jessberger, Florian, Principles of International Criminal Law Oxford 2014

As new editions of these texts become available, requests will be made to the library to acquire these.

Additional reading lists will be published for the individual seminars. They will mainly contain articles which are available on Westlaw International or Hein Online, to which Edinburgh University has access.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills The course will develop students' abilities in handling the relevant sources and materials of international criminal law. Students should acquire evaluative skills which will be developed through practice of analysing academic opinion and materials in these fields and assessing their value, and participating in group seminar discussion. Students will also be able to acquire problem-solving techniques on issues in the areas studied.

Oral communication is developed in particular through the use of presentations delivered by students as part of their assessments, research skills are developed through the research paper and through work for each seminar.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Paul Behrens
Course secretaryMiss Lauren Ayre
Tel: (0131 6)50 2010
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