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Humanity Seized by International Criminal Justice

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Borrowed from other academic fields, “humanity” is mobilized at the intersection of discourses, legal practices, and policies. It is the symbol of the scale at which the legal vocation is to be applied at an international, if not universal, level. International criminal justice is constructed around the notion of attacks against humanity, and the creation of the “crime against humanity” and “genocide” to punish acts that were progressively differentiated from war crimes. In the field of law, transitions from war to peace are viewed through the prism of the notion of “humanity.” This contribution deals with the notion of “Humanity,” to understand the logic of its mobilization, utilization within the international criminal justice system, and effects. “Humanity,” now a legal category, is displayed as the circulation of consensus through a legitimate reference that cannot be questioned. The analysis of the doctrine and jurisprudence of contemporary criminal jurisdictions and the genealogy of the introduction of the notion of Humanity in law permits the comprehension of how this category preserves the representations of the world and of the law damaged by the crime. This system is more similar to a model of distribution of responses than to a model in crisis. In this sense, one can ponder this circulation of a model more or, more precisely, on the circulation of the conceptual crisis.


  • International Criminal Court
  • International Criminal Tribunal
  • Hague Convention
  • International Tribunal
  • International Criminal Justice

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Sara Liwerant is maître de conférences at the Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense and Conseillère of the Minister of Justice and of Human Rights, Republic of the Congo since 2009. This chapter was translated by Benn E. Williams. The translator’s notes appear in brackets within the author’s or are marked “NdT.”

This contribution is derived from a larger project; see Liwerant 2009.

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  1. 1.

    The first jurisdictions were the International Military Tribunals of Nuremberg and Tokyo following the Second World War. With the resolutions 827 and 955, in 1993 and 1994, respectively, the UN created the International Criminal Tribunal for the ex-Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

  2. 2.

    The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established on 17 July 1998 by the Treaty of Rome.

  3. 3.

    Since, as of this writing, the International Criminal Court has not rendered a “thorough” decision, this chapter only takes into consideration those affairs thoroughly judged by the two international criminal tribunals.

  4. 4.

    Laws of War: Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV), 18 October 1907. [Translation available at].

  5. 5.

    Graven 1950–1951, p. 463.

  6. 6.

    Ibid., p. 433.

  7. 7.

    Although the laws and customs of war were taken into consideration, their proscription was not envisioned except through an international jurisdiction. (See Liwerant 2002.) Furthermore, works in the anthropology of law have shown the predominance, in the west, of the recognition of the legal phenomenon by the form of general and impersonal norms.

  8. 8.

    Becker 1996, p. 56.

  9. 9.

    Memoir cited by Aronéanu 1948, p. 184.

  10. 10.

    Cited by Massé 1989, p. 34.

  11. 11.

    Article 226 of the Treaty of Sèvres.

  12. 12.

    See Mandelstam 1922–1924, pp. 361; 414; 425.

  13. 13.

    See, notably, Deperchin-Gouillard 1996.

  14. 14.

    Graven 1950–1951, p. 448.

  15. 15.

    The first draft of the repressive international code was developed in 1925 by Vespasien Pella. Following the Second World War, the climate was favorable to a Code of Crimes project from the 1950s, the United Nations General Assembly suspended the examination of a first draft submitted by the Commission of International Law (CIW) because of discussions about the definition of a crime of aggression. Eventually, the CIW did not take back up a code of crimes until 1981, which was adopted in 1996.

  16. 16.

    Mahiou 2000, pp. 37–38.

  17. 17.

    Meyrowitz 1960, pp. 7–8.

  18. 18.

    Citd by Graven 1950, p. 447.

  19. 19.

    Roosevelt and Churchill on 25 October 1941; note by Molotov on 27 November 1941; Declaration of the United Nations, speech of 5 December 1941.

  20. 20.

    Aronéanu 1948, p. 205. In this declaration, the signatory governments expressed their willingness “to set punishment among the principle goals of the war, by the means of organized justice, of guilty individuals or those responsible for the crime that they ordered, that they perpetrated or participated in.” Cited by Meyrowitz 1960, pp. 9–10.

  21. 21.

    See, notably, Grynfogel 1994, p. 15.

  22. 22.

    Roosevelt cited by Aronéanu 1948, p. 231.

  23. 23.

    This declaration minorly foresaw that national tribunals would judge crimes perpetrated on their soil and for crimes that could not be localized, the Allied governments would render a joint decision.

  24. 24.

    Aronéanu 1948, p. 210.

  25. 25.

    This article defines crimes against humanity as: “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.” Writing the principles of international criminal law in 1950 at the request of the UN General Assembly demonstrated the demand for a new legal reference ratifying/confirming the principles brought out at Nuremberg.

  26. 26.

    Cited by Donnedieu de Vabres 1947, p. 527.

  27. 27.

    Article 5 of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia’s statute is competent to judge grave offenses to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (Article 2), of violations of the laws and customs of war (Article 3), and of genocide (Article 4). The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was competent to judge genocide (Article 2), crimes against humanity (Article 3), and violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and the additional Protocol II.

  28. 28.

    Article 5b of the July 1998 Treaty of Rome establishing the International Criminal Court, of which the statute went into force in July 2002 after being ratified by sixty countries. Besides the crimes against humanity, the court is competent to judge crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.

  29. 29.

    Donnedieu de Vabres 1947, p. 506.

  30. 30.

    Ibid., p. 505.

  31. 31.

    Aronéanu 1948, p. 193.

  32. 32.

    Without researching whether or not the facts were qualified, the Tribunals certified that the statute incriminated them as soon as they presented a connection with the crimes against peace and war crimes (other offenses laid out by the statute).

  33. 33.

    After the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials, the United Nations Assembly adopted a resolution confirming the Principles of International Law recognized by the “Nuremberg Charter” of 11 December 1946 and the Commission of International Law decided to eliminate the connection between this crime and the situation of war (aggression) and war crimes. The war crimes and crimes against humanity would no longer be linked by a relationship (notably in the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunals and the International Criminal Court).

  34. 34.

    Donnedieu de Vabres 1947, p. 527.

  35. 35.

    As an example, it is interesting to note that this question has been resolved not only at Nuremberg, but also in the first decisions of the international criminal tribunals and by the International Criminal Court of Yugoslavia; see the Tadic case where the ICCY spent very large developments relative to its competence.

  36. 36.

    Graven 1950, p. 438.

  37. 37.

    Cited by ibid., p. 441.

  38. 38.

    Aronéanu 1947, p. 193.

  39. 39.

    Graven 1950, p. 439.

  40. 40.

    Donnedieu de Vabres, 522.

  41. 41.

    In this sense, see Legendre 1999.

  42. 42.

    Dautricourt 1947, p. 298.

  43. 43.

    Truche 1992, pp. 67–68.

  44. 44.

    Delmas-Marty 1994, p. 489.

  45. 45.

    Ibid., p. 490.

  46. 46.

    Francillon 1999, p. 400.

  47. 47.

    Chambre de première instance I, Erdemovic IT-96-22 “Ferme de Pilica,” 29 novembre 1996, §19.

  48. 48.

    Chambre de première instance I, Kambanda ICTR-97-23-S, 4 septembre 1998.

  49. 49.

    Chambre de première instance I, Erdemovic IT-96-22, “Ferme de Pilica,” 29 novembre 1996, §28.

  50. 50.

    The notion of “dignity” makes its entry in the United Nations Charter signed in San Francisco on 26 June, 1945.

  51. 51.

    See, for example, the Furundzija affair judged by the ICTY.

  52. 52.

    See the indictments in the Kordic, Sikirica, and Nikolic cases.

  53. 53.

    Chambre de première instance II, Kupreskic et consorts, IT-95-16 “Vallée de la Lasva,” 14 janvier 2000, §547.

  54. 54.

    See Liwerant 2006.

  55. 55.

    The term “responsible” is recent, dating to the end of the eighteenth century; its original meaning was “to hold accountable for” [se tenir garant], that is, it designated a debtor on which weighed an obligation and not an offense. See Villey 1977.

  56. 56.

    In this sense, our propos consists in affirming that there exists a “murderous normativity.” See Liwerant 2010. And, in considering these acts in relation to this murderous normativity, international criminal law cannot attain the construction of its legitimacy and of its authority.

  57. 57.

    See Liwerant 2007.

  58. 58.

    See Liwerant 2012.

  59. 59.

    The principle is inscribed, respectively, in Articles 23 and 24 of the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunals of Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

  60. 60.

    This principle is recalled in “the general principles governing the determination of the punishment,” the rubric preceding the in-depth examination. Furthermore, judging the criminal responsibility for the crime of genocide, the “crime of crimes,” the ICTR straightaway characterized the gravity of the offense.

  61. 61.

    Mucic: “The gravity of the offense is far from being the most important, determinant criterion for meting out a just punishment. It is advisable to recall here that the Tribunal was competent for judging, the grave violation of international humans right law committed on the soil of the ex-Yugoslavia since 1991.”

  62. 62.

    Chambre de première instance I, Kambanda…, 4 septembre 1998, §42.

  63. 63.

    Jugement portant condamnation d’Erdemovic du 29 novembre 1996. The court recognized that the victims’ suffering was an element to take into account in the sentencing.

  64. 64.

    The Tadic judgment concerning sentence: precisely the harm that the defendant had caused the victims.

  65. 65.

    Chambre de première instance I Kvocka…, 2 novembre 2001, §701; see, too, Chambre de première instance II Mucic …Camp de Celebici,” §1256.

  66. 66.

    Radislav Krstić (b. 15 February 1948) commanded the Bosnian Serb unit responsible for the Srebrenica massacre of approximately 7,800 Bosniaks in 1995. He was indicted for war crimes by the ICTY in 1998 and convicted on 2 August 2001 and sentenced to forty-six years of prison. -NdT.

  67. 67.

    Chambre de première instance I Krstic …, 2 août 2001, §720.

  68. 68.

    Ibid., §705.

  69. 69.

    This same criterion is used to determine the punishment pronounced towards the authors of genocide, which poses the question of the existence of an implicit hierarchy between these two offenses.

  70. 70.

    Carrillo-Salcedo 1999, pp. 23–24.

  71. 71.

    The lead American prosecutor J. Jackson’s initial indictment before Tribunal at Nuremberg, cited by Graven 1964, p. 15.

  72. 72.

    Donnedieu de Vabres 1947, p. 518. The term indignation is also taken up by the contemporary doctrine. Bettati presents the crime against humanity as a legally vague notion that makes more of a reference to “indignation.”

  73. 73.

    Article 9.2 the Statute of ICTY (similar to Article 8 of the ICTR) states: “The International Tribunal shall have primacy over national courts. At any stage of the procedure, the International Tribunal may formally request national courts to defer the competence of the International Tribunal in accordance with the present Statute and [its] Rules of Procedure and Evidence.”

  74. 74.

    The creation of the offenses corresponds to a known phenomenon: knowing how to proclaim rights or a prohibition at a moment where the transgression was so devastating that the prohibition lost all its evidence; this is the case of the Declaration of 1948 and the offenses of Nuremburg.


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Liwerant, S. (2014). Humanity Seized by International Criminal Justice. In: Israël, L., Mouralis, G. (eds) Dealing with Wars and Dictatorships. T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague.

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