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The Attribution of Responsibility and Modes of Liability in International Criminal Law

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2016


In 2012, James Stewart published an article in this journal. The piece – ‘The End of “Modes of Liability” for International Crimes’ – argued for the abolition of accomplice liability in international criminal law and the adoption of a unitary model of participation in crime. This article argues that Stewart's proposal is flawed. As a matter of moral responsibility, the distinction between principals and accomplices follows from the recognition of individuals as moral agents. Turning to ordinary criminal responsibility, neither practical benefits nor expressive benefits nor the mitigating effects of the distinctive institution of criminal sentencing justifies the abolition of the distinction between principals and accomplices. Moreover, despite the collective nature of many international crimes, international criminal law ought to strive to accurately differentiate, in the attribution of responsibility, among participants. Only a differentiated model of participation can accurately and defensibly capture the different ways that individuals contribute to wrongdoing.

Copyright © Foundation of the Leiden Journal of International Law 2016 

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1 Stewart, J., ‘The End of “Modes of Liability” for International Crimes’, (2012) 25 LJIL 165 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 See, e.g., Werle, G. and Burghardt, B., ‘Establishing Degrees of Responsibility: Modes of Participation in Article 25 of the ICC Statute’, in Van Sliedregt, E. and Vasiliev, S. (eds.), Pluralism in International Criminal Law (2014), 301 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; M. Jackson, Complicity in International Law (2015), 18–20.

3 Robinson, D., ‘LJIL Symposium: Darryl Robinson comments on James Stewart's “End of Modes of Liability”’, Opinio Juris, 21 March 2012 Google Scholar, available at; T. Weigend, ‘LJIL Symposium: Thomas Weigend comments on James Stewart's “The ‘End of Modes of Liability for International Crimes’”, Opinio Juris, 22 March 2012, available at; J. Ohlin, ‘LJIL Symposium: Names, Labels, and Roses’, Opinio Juris, 23 March 2012, available at

4 Stewart, supra note 1, at 169.

5 Ibid., at 165.

6 Cf. C. Roxin, Täterschaft und Tatherrschaft (1963).

7 Gardner, J., ‘Complicity and Causality’, (2007) 1 Criminal Law and Philosophy 127 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 132. See further Section 3.1 below.

8 C. Kutz, Complicity: Ethics and Law for a Collective Age (2000), 3–4.

9 See E. van Sliedregt, Individual Criminal Responsibility in International Law (2012), 70 describing such an approach as a ‘pure’ differentiated model of responsibility.

10 Art. 6, 1945 Charter of the International Military Tribunal (Nuremberg) annexed to Agreement for the Prosecution and Punishment of the Major War Criminals of the European Axis, 82 UNTS 279. See also Art. 5(c), 1946 Charter of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, TIAS No 1589.

11 Art. 7, Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia adopted by UNSC Res 827 (25 May 1993) UN Doc. S/RES/827; Art. 6, Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda adopted by UNSC Res 955 (8 November 1994) UN Doc. S/RES/955.

12 Art. 25, 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 2187 UNTS 90.

13 Stewart, supra note 1, at 167.

14 Ibid.

15 Damaška, M., ‘The Shadow Side of Command Responsibility’, (2001) 49 American Journal of Comparative Law 455 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 456.

16 Ohlin, J., ‘Three Conceptual Problems with the Doctrine of Joint Criminal Enterprise’, (2007) 5 JICJ 69 Google Scholar. See also Robinson, D., ‘The Identity Crisis of International Criminal Law’, (2008) 21 LJIL 925 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

17 Stewart, supra note 1, at 168.

18 Ibid., at 185.

19 Ibid., at 191–9.

20 Ibid., at 197.

21 Ibid., at 199.

22 Ibid., at 199–200. See, e.g., Prosecutor v. Blaškić, Judgement, Case No. IT-95-14-A, Appeals Chamber, 29 July 2004, at para. 48.

23 See, e.g., Prosecutor v. Simić, Judgement, Case No. IT-95-9-A, Appeals Chamber, 28 November 2006, para. 85; Prosecutor v. Mrkšić and Šljivančanin, Judgement, Case No. IT-95-13/1-A, Appeals Chamber, 5 May 2009 (‘Mrkšić and Šljivančanin appeal judgement’), para. 81.

24 Stewart, supra note 1, at 200. See also J. Gardner, ‘Moore on Complicity and Causality’ (2008) 156 University of Pennsylvania Law Review PENNumbra 432.

25 Stewart, supra note 1, at 204.

26 Ibid., at 207.

27 Ibid., at 207–8.

28 Ibid., at 213–18.

29 As the proverb goes: ‘success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan’.

30 See generally P. Strawson, Freedom and Resentment and Other Essays (1974); T. Scanlon, Moral Dimensions: Permissibility, Meaning, Blame (2008).

31 For further discussion of the relationship between different kinds of reactive attitudes and responsibility, see R. Wallace, Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments (1994).

32 Gardner, supra note 7, at 132. See also Kutz, supra note 8, at 3–4.

33 See Kremnitzer, M. and Hörnle, T., ‘Human Dignity and the Principle of Culpability’, (2011) 44 Israel Law Review 115 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34 See Robinson, supra note 16. See also Damaška, supra note 15, at 464.

35 See generally Kutz, supra note 8.

36 See generally Jackson, supra note 2, at 10–11.

37 See, e.g., Feinberg, J., ‘Collective Responsibility’, (1968) 65 Journal of Philosophy 674 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Searle, J., ‘Collective Intentions and Actions’, in Cohen, P., Morgan, J., and Pollack, M. (eds.), Intentions in Communication (1990), 401 Google Scholar; Gilbert, M., ‘Shared Intention and Personal Intention’, (2009) 144 Philosophical Studies 167 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; M. Bratman, Shared Agency: A Planning Theory of Acting Together (2014).

38 See generally Kelsen, H., ‘Collective and Individual Responsibility in International Law with Particular Regard to the Punishment of War Criminals’, (1943) 31 California Law Review 530 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Pettit, P., ‘Responsibility Incorporated’, (2007) 117 Ethics 171 Google Scholar.

39 Kadish, S., ‘Complicity, Cause and Blame’, (1985) 73 California Law Review 323 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 342.

40 See 18 USC § 2 (1994) (USA); Accessories and Abettors Act 1861, as amended by Schedule 12 to the Criminal Law Act 1977, s 8.

41 Gardner, supra note 7, at 132.

42 K.J.M. Smith, A Modern Treatise on the Law of Criminal Complicity (1991); Gardner, supra note 7, at 128. Cf. C. Kutz, ‘Causeless Complicity’ (2007) 1 Criminal Law and Philosophy 289 for a discussion of causal indeterminacy in the relations between the accomplice and principal.

43 Feinberg, supra note 37, at 677.

44 See generally Ohlin, J., ‘Group Think: The Law of Conspiracy and Collective Reason’, (2007) 98 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 147 Google Scholar.

45 Think, perhaps, of a sports team's physiotherapist, or bus-driver, or kit-man.

46 See T. Isaacs, Moral Responsibility in Collective Contexts (2011), 102–29; G. Fletcher, Romantics at War: Glory and Guilt in the Age of Terrorism (2002), 161–3.

47 Feinberg, supra note 37, at 685.

48 See generally K. Jaspers, The Question of German Guilt (trans. E. Ashton, 2001).

49 For further discussion, see P. Cane, Responsibility in Law and Morality (2002); M. Moore, Causation and Responsibility (2009); A. Duff, ‘Legal and Moral Responsibility’, (2009) 4 Philosophy Compass 978.

50 See 18 USC § 2; Accessories and Abettors Act, s. 8. On doctrinal differentiation, differentiation in the attribution of responsibility, and differentiation in sentencing, see Jackson, supra note 2, at 22–6.

51 Stewart, supra note 1, at 213–18.

52 Ibid.

53 Stewart, supra note 1, at 208.

54 Weigend, supra note 3.

55 This is leaving aside the legality concerns that accompany broad sentencing discretion. See Ohlin, supra note 3.

56 See Damaška, supra note 15; Robinson, supra note 16; Ohlin, supra note 16.

57 For an in-depth discussion, see Chalmers, J. and Leverick, F., ‘Fair Labelling in Criminal Law’ (2008) 71 Modern Law Review 217 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

58 A. Ashworth and J. Horder, Principles of Criminal Law (2013) 77–9.

59 Ibid. See also Tadros, V., ‘Fair Labelling and Social Solidarity’, in Zedner, L. and Roberts, J. (eds.), Principles and Values in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice (2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

60 Stewart, supra note 1, at 211.

61 Ibid., at 212.

62 See Husak, D., ‘Abetting a Crime’, (2014) 33 Criminal Law and Philosophy 41 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 61.

63 Stewart, supra note 1, at 212.

64 Robinson, supra note 3.

65 Ibid., at 212–13.

66 J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (1962) 150.

67 See generally W. Alston, Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning (2000) 88–9.

68 See Ohlin, supra note 3.

69 Stewart, supra note 1, at 207.

70 Ohlin, supra note 3.

71 Ibid.

72 Ibid. See also Horder, J., ‘Rethinking Non-Fatal Offences against the Person’, (1994) 14 OJLS 335, at 339CrossRefGoogle Scholar discussing the opposite perils of particularism and moral vacuity.

73 See H.L.A. Hart, Punishment and Responsibility: Essays in the Philosophy of Law (1968); A. von Hirsch and A. Ashworth, Proportionate Sentencing: Exploring the Principles (2005).

74 See, e.g., the German approach in StGB § 25; StGB § 26; StGB § 27. To be sure, a differentiated model of participation does not necessitate a normative model of principalship. See further N. Jain, Perpetrators and Accessories in International Criminal Law (2014).

75 A. Eser, ‘Individual Criminal Responsibility’, in A. Cassese et al. (eds.), The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: A Commentary—Vol I (2002), 767 at 782.

76 Van Sliedregt, supra note 9, at 71–2. See also Roxin, supra note 6; J. Vogel, ‘How to Determine Individual Criminal Responsibility in Systemic Contexts: Twelve Models’ (2002) Cahiers de Défense Sociale 151.

77 See, e.g., M. Osiel, Making Sense of Mass Atrocity (2009); M. Drumbl, Atrocity, Punishment and International Law (2007).

78 See, e.g., Art. 1, 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 78 UNTS 277; Art. 7 Rome Statute, supra note 12.

79 See Jackson, supra note 2, at 17.

80 See P. Clark, The Gacaca Courts, Post-Genocide Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda: Justice without Lawyers (2010); Burke-White, W., ‘Proactive Complementarity: The International Criminal Court and National Courts in the Rome System of International Justice’, (2008) 49 Harvard International Law Journal 53 Google Scholar.

81 Nollkaemper, A., ‘Systemic Effects of International Responsibility for International Crimes’, (2010) 8 Santa Clara Journal of International Law 313 Google Scholar. See also A. Nollkaemper and H. van der Wilt (eds.), System Criminality in International Law (2009).

82 See generally R. Teitel, Transitional Justice (2000); Letki, N., ‘Lustration and Democratisation in East-Central Europe’, (2002) 54 East-Asia Studies 529 Google Scholar, at 542; P. Hayner, Unspeakable Truths: Transitional Justice and the Challenge of Truth Commissions (2010); Theidon, K., ‘Transitional Subjects: The Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Former Combatants in Colombia’, (2007) 1 International Journal of Transitional Justice 66 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

83 See Jain, N., ‘Individual Responsibility for Mass Atrocity: In Search of a Concept of Perpetration’, (2013) 61 American Journal of Comparative Law 831 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

84 See generally Danner, A. and Martinez, J., ‘Guilty Associations: Joint Criminal Enterprise, Command Responsibility, and the Development of International Criminal Law’, (2005) 93 California Law Review 82 Google Scholar; Ohlin, J., ‘Joint Intentions to Commit International Crimes’, (2011) 11 Chicago Journal of International Law 693 Google Scholar; N. Jain, Perpetrators and Accessories in International Criminal Law: Individual Modes of Responsibility for International Crimes (2014); J. Gadirov, ‘Collective Intentions and Individual Criminal Responsibility in International Criminal Law’, in Van Sliedregt and Vasiliev, supra note 2, at 342.

85 J. Ohlin, ‘The Co-Perpetrator Model of Joint Criminal Enterprise’, in A. Klip and G. Sluiter (eds.), Annotated Leading Cases of International Criminal Tribunals: The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia 2003 – Volume 14 (2008), 739 at 742–4.

86 See Werle and Burghardt, supra note 2, at 315–18.

87 See Vest, H., ‘Problems of Participation – Unitarian, Differentiated Approach, or Something Else’, (2014) 12 JICJ 295, at 302–3Google Scholar.

88 See Werle and Burghardt, supra note 2, at 311 for an argument that the huge divergence in the responsibility of participants in international crimes makes it more important, rather than less important, for international criminal law to differentiate among participants compared to ordinary municipal criminal law.

89 Public Prosecutor v. van Anraat, District Court, The Hague, Case No. 09/751003-04, 23 December 2005.

90 Ibid.

91 Ibid. See also Prosecutor v. van Anraat, Dutch Supreme Court, 30 June 2009, Case No. 07/10742, 30 June 2009; van der Wilt, H., ‘Genocide, Complicity in Genocide and International v. Domestic Jurisdiction: Reflections on the van Anraat Case’, (2006) 4 JICJ 239 Google Scholar.

92 See, e.g., Zyklon B—Trial of Bruno Tesch and Two Others (8 March 1946) (1947) I LRTWC 93; The Jaluit Atoll Case (13 December 1945) (1947) 1 LRTWC 71, 73 (United States Military Commission, Marshall Islands); Mrkšić and Šljivančanin appeal judgement, supra note 23; Prosecutor v. Taylor, Judgement, SCSL-03-01-A, AC, SCSL, 26 September 2013. Cf. Art. 25(3)(c) Rome Statute, supra note 12; Prosecutor v. Perišić, Judgement, Case No. IT-04-81-A, Appeals Chamber, 28 February 2013.

93 Stewart, supra note 1, at 190–9.

94 Ibid., at 198.

95 Van Sliedregt, supra note 9, at 70–2.

96 In respect of the Rome Statute, see Ambos, K., ‘The First Judgment of the International Criminal Court (Prosecutor v. Lubanga): A Comprehensive Analysis of the Legal Issues, (2012) 12 International Criminal Law Review 115 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Werle and Burghardt, supra note 2; Vest, supra note 87.

97 See Smith, supra note 42, at 46: ‘There is no natural or automatically ascertainable proper level of mental involvement or culpability; it is a normative issue of what mental states, bearing in mind the social circumstances and consequences and possibilities for control, ought to be taken as appropriate subjects of criminal sanctions.’

98 See Werle, G., ‘Individual Criminal Responsibility in Article 25 ICC Statute’, (2007) 5 JICJ 953, at 969–70Google Scholar; Jackson, supra note 2, at 46–54.

99 Perišić, supra note 92.

100 See J. Stewart, ‘The ICTY Loses its Way on Complicity—Part 2’, Opinio Juris, 3 April 2013, available at; M. Ventura, ‘Farewell “Specific Direction”: Aiding and Abetting War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in Perišić, Taylor, Šainović et al., and US Alien Tort Statute Jurisprudence’, in S. Casey-Maslen (ed.), The War Report: Armed Conflict in 2013 (2014), 510.