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A Strategic Choice: The State Policy Requirement in Core International Crimes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 October 2015


The article focuses on one of the most intriguing and, at the same time, controversial issues of international criminal law: whether the state policy requirement should be considered as a constitutive element in core international crimes. Adopting a criminal policy perspective, my intention is to contribute to the ongoing discussion by offering a doctrinal and criminological corroboration of the position that answers in the affirmative. Nevertheless, I am not necessarily promoting a normative choice entailing the amendment of the definition of core international crimes, but I rather call for a policy choice of focusing on cases that presume a state policy component.

HAGUE INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNALS: International Criminal Courts and Tribunals
Copyright © Foundation of the Leiden Journal of International Law 2015 

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1 See Schabas, W. A., ‘Crimes Against Humanity: The State Plan or Policy Element’, in Sadat, L. N. and Scharf, M. P. (eds.), The Theory and Practice of International Criminal Law. Essays in Honour of M. Cherif Bassiouni (2008), 347–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Schabas, W. A., Genocide in International Law. The Crimes of Crimes (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 241ff., 491ff.; Schabas, W. A., ‘State Policy as an Element of International Crimes’, (2008) 98 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 953Google Scholar. Counter-argumentation for the case of crimes against humanity where the element of ‘state or organizational policy’ is explicitly stipulated: Halling, M., ‘Push the Envelope – Watch It Bend: Removing the Policy Requirement and Extending Crimes against Humanity’, (2010) 23 LJIL 827CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Werle, G. and Burghardt, B., ‘Do Crimes Against Humanity Require the Participation of a State or a “State-like” Organization?’, (2012) 10 JICJ 1151Google Scholar. For a reaction to the former article, see Schabas, W. A., ‘Prosecuting Dr Strangelove, Goldfinger, and the Joker at the ICC: Closing the Loopholes’, (2010) 23 LJIL 847Google Scholar. See also, Mettraux, G., ‘The Definition of Crimes Against Humanity and the Question of a “Policy” Element’, in Sadat, L. N. (ed.), Forging a Convention for Crimes Against Humanity (2011), 142–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 W. A. Schabas, The International Criminal Court: A Commentary on the Rome Statute (2010), at 40.

3 M. Delmas-Marty, Les grands systèmes de politique criminelle (1992), at 13-4. C. Lazerges, Introduction à la politique criminelle (2000), at 7.

4 It is posited that ‘the discussion on the policy requirement echoes deeper existential questions on the nature and limits of international criminal law and additionally on the role of the International Criminal Court as the predominant instrument of international judicial intervention’: van den Herik, L. and van Sliedregt, E., ‘Removing or Reincarnating the Policy Requirement of Crimes against Humanity: Introductory Note’, (2012) 10 LJIL 825Google Scholar, at 826. See also Kreß, C., ‘The International Criminal Court as a Turning Point in the History of International Criminal Justice’, in Cassese, A. (ed.), The Oxford Companion to International Criminal Justice (2009), 143–59Google Scholar. Ambos, Κ., ‘International Criminal Law at the Crossroads: From Ad Hoc Imposition to a Treaty-Based Universal System’, in Stahn, C. and van den Herik, L. (eds.), Future Perspectives on International Criminal Justice (2010), 161–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Schabas, supra note 1, ‘Prosecuting Dr Strangelove’, at 853.

note 1

6 Gaeta, P., ‘The History and the Evolution of the Notion of International Crimes’, in Bellelli, R. (ed.), International Criminal Justice. Law and Practice from the Rome Statute to Its Review (2010), 169–80Google Scholar. Luban, D., ‘State Criminality and the Ambition of International Criminal Law’, in Isaacs, Τ. and Vernon, R. (eds.), Accountability for Collective Wrongdoing (2011), 6191CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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9 According to Habermas, there is a legitimation crisis when structures are unable to demonstrate that their practical functions fulfil the role for which they were instituted, despite the fact that they still retain legal authority by which to govern: J. Habermas, Legitimation Crisis (1988), at 68ff; J. Habermas, ‘What does a Legitimation Crisis Mean Today? Legitimation Problems in Late Capitalism’, and Schaar, J., ‘Legitimacy in the Modern State’, both in Connolly, W. (ed.), Legitimacy and the State (1984), 134–55Google Scholar and 104–27, respectively. For the legitimating function of human rights in the Constitutional State, see J. Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contribution to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy (1996), at 82ff.

10 According to Rotberg, the inability of a state to provide security and political goods leads to its failure and consequently to the loss of legitimacy. Rotberg, R. I., ‘The Failure and Collapse of Nation-States: Breakdown, Prevention and Repair’, in Rotberg, R. I. (ed.), When States Fail. Causes and Consequences (2004), at 24Google Scholar. See also, M. Silva, State Legitimacy and Failure in International Law (2014). N. Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (2006). Patrick, S., ‘“Failed” States and Global Security: Empirical Questions and Policy Dilemmas’, (2007) 9 International Studies Review 644CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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17 R. Bellelli, ‘The Establishment of the System of International Criminal Justice’, in Bellelli (ed.), supra note 6, at 5.

note 6

18 I. Brownlie, International Law and the Use of Force by States (1963); T. Meron, The Humanization of International Law (2006).

19 1928 General Treaty for the Renunciation of War (Kellogg-Briand Pact) 94 LNTS 57, Art. I.

20 1945 Charter of the United Nations, 1 UNTS XVI, Art. 2(4) and Chapter VII.

21 Skubiszewski, K., ‘Peace and War’, in Bernhardt, R. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Public International Law (1982), Vol. 4, 74Google Scholar at 75.

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note 21

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note 18

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34 N. Politis, Les Nouvelles Tendances du Droit International (1927), at 128ff. Glaser, S., ‘L'Etat entant que personne morale est-il pénalement responsable?’, (1948) 5 Revue de Droit pénal et de Criminologie, 425Google Scholar. Eustathiades, G., ‘Les sujets du droit international et la responsabilité internationale: nouvelles tendances’, 84 Recueil des cours de l'Académie de Droit International de la Haye (1953-III), 397Google Scholar at 434–58.

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39 Schabas, supra note 1, ‘State Policy as an Element’, at 974.

note 1

40 A. Cassese, International Criminal Law (2008), at 36–41. G. Werle, ‘General Principles of International Criminal Law’, in Cassese, supra note 4, 54 at 55.

note 4

41 Bassiouni, supra note 16, at 114ff.

note 16

42 Cryer, R., ‘The Doctrinal Foundations of International Criminalization’, in Bassiouni, M. C. (ed.), International Criminal Law (2008), Vol. 1, 107 at 111–13Google Scholar.

43 And it is further explained that: ‘Until that time, international law was instrumental in allowing states to better organize the joint repression of certain criminal offences, more specifically those that damages their collective interests and had a strong transnational dimension’. Gaeta, supra note 6, at 169.

note 6

44 UN General Assembly, Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its Forty-Eighth Session, UN Doc. A/RES 51/160 (1996).

45 Un Doc. A/CONF.183/9 (1998).

46 UN General Assembly, Formulation of the Principles Recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Trial and the Judgement of the Tribunal, UN Doc. A/RES 177(ΙI) (1947).

47 J. Spiropoulos, ‘Draft Code of Offences against the Peace and Security of Mankind – Report by J. Spiropoulos, Special Rapporteur’, UN Doc. A/CN.4/25, 1950 YILC, Vol. II, 253 at 257–9.

48 Ibid., at 260–1.


49 International Law Commission, ‘Report of the International Law Commission on the Work of its Third Session, 16 May to 27 July 1951’, UN Doc. A/CN.4/48 and Corr. 1 & 2, 1951 YILC, Vol. II, 133 at 134.

50 Ibid., at 134–7; International Law Commission, ‘Report of the International Law Commission Covering the Work of its Sixth Session, 3–28 July 1954’, UN Doc. A/CN.4/88, 1954 YILC, Vol. II, 149–52.


51 General Assembly, Definition of Aggression, A/RES 3314(ΧΧIX) (1974).

52 General Assembly, Draft Code of Offences against the Peace and Security of Mankind, A/RES 897(IX) (1954).

53 D. Thiam, ‘Third Report on the Draft Code of Offences Against the Peace and Security of Mankind by Mr. Doudou Thiam, Special Rapporteur’, UN Doc. A/CN.4/387 and Corr. 1 and Corr. 2, 1985 YILC, Vol. II(1), 63 at 65–66.

54 International Law Commission, ‘Report of the International Law Commission on the Work of its Thirty-Seventh Session, 6 May – 26 July 1985’, UN Doc. A/40/10, 1985 YILC, Vol. II(2), at 13–14.

55 In the commentary it is noted that ‘individual’ means natural person. What is more, ‘the act for which an individual is responsible might also be attributable to a State if the individual acted as an “agent of the State”, “on behalf of the State”, “in the name of the State” or as a de facto agent, without any legal power. For this reason, Art. 4 (Responsibility of States) establishes that the criminal responsibility of individuals is “without prejudice to any question of the responsibility of States under international law”’. International Law Commission, ‘Report of the International Law Commission on the Work of its Forty-Eighth Session, 6 May–26 July 1996’, UN Doc. A/51/10, 1996 YILC, Vol. II(2), at 18–19.

56 Ibid., at 42–43.


57 UN Doc. A/CN.4/387 and Corr. 1 and Corr. 2 (1985), at 68–71. See also UN Doc. A/40/10 (1985), at 14–15.

58 UN Doc. A/51/10 (1996), at 17.

59 D. Thiam, ‘Thirteenth Report on the Draft Code of Offences Against the Peace and Security of Mankind by Mr. Doudou Thiam, Special Rapporteur’, UN Doc. A/CN.4/666, 1995 YILC, Vol. II(1), 33 at 35.

60 At para. 4 of the commentary it is noted that ‘the words “aggression committed by a State” clearly indicate that such a violation of the law by a State is a sine qua non condition for the possible attribution to an individual of responsibility for a crime of aggression’. UN Doc. A/51/10 (1996), 43.

61 Ibid., 45.


62 General Assembly, International Criminal Responsibility of Individuals and Entities Engaged in Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs Across National Frontiers and Other Transnational Criminal Activities,UN Doc. A/RES 44/39 (1989).

63 International Law Commission, ‘Report of the International Law Commission on the Work of its Forty-Sixth Session, 2 May–22 July 1994’, UN Doc. A/49/10, 1994 YILC, Vol. II (part II), at 20–73.

64 It is observed that ‘the need for an international court is the result of a broad, common, shared supranational basis of evaluations, principles, interests and rights of a “higher” nature’. Picotti, L., ‘Criminally Protected Legal Interests at the International Level after the Rome Statute’, in Politi, M. and Nesi, G. (eds.), The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: A Challenge to Impunity (2001), at 259Google Scholar.

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note 40

66 Schabas, supra note 2, at 108.

note 2

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70 Cassese, supra note 40, at 54.

note 40

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72 See R. Murphy, ‘Gravity Issues and the International Criminal Court’, (2006) 17 CLF 281–315. M. M. Εl Zeidy, ‘The Gravity Threshold Under The Statute Of The International Criminal Court’, (2008) 19 CLF 35.

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note 77

79 Chouliaras, A., ‘Bridging the Gap between Criminological Theory and Penal Theory within the International Criminal Justice System’, (2014) 22 European Journal of Crime, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice 249CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also D. Rothe and C. Mullins, ‘Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in Central Africa: A Criminological Explanation’, in Smeulers and Haveman, supra note 77, 135–58.

note 77

80 A. Ceretti, ‘Collective Violence and International Crimes’, in Cassese, supra note 4, 5–15; A. Smeulers (ed.), Collective Violence and International Criminal Justice: An Interdisciplinary Approach (2010).

note 4

81 S. E. Barkan and L. L. Snowden, Collective Violence (2001), at 1–4.

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note 81

85 C. Tilly, The Politics of Collective Violence (2003), at 26.

86 Governmental capacity refers to the control of resources, activities, and population within a territory, whereas democracy touches on the existence of broad and equal relations of communication and control between the population and the state, ibid., at 41.

87 Summers and Markusen, supra note 82, at ix.

note 82

88 Drumbl, M. A., ‘Collective Violence and Individual Punishment: The Criminality of Mass Atrocity’, (2005) 99 Northwestern University Law Review 539Google Scholar at 566ff.

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note 80

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note 77

94 H. C. Kelman and V. L. Hamilton, Crimes of Obedience. Toward a Social Psychology of Authority and Responsibility (1989); M. J. Osiel, Obeying Orders. Atrocity, Military Discipline and the Law of War (1999).

95 Tilly, supra note 85, at 7. D. Foster, ‘Rethinking the Subjectivity of Perpetrators of Political Violence’, in Smeulers, supra note 80, 39–61.

note 85
note 80

96 D. Foster, P. Haupt, and M. de Beer, The Theater of Violence. Narratives of Protagonists in the South African Conflict (2005), at 68–69.

97 J. J. Savelsberg, Crime and Human Rights. Criminology of Genocide and Atrocities (2010), at 51. A. Alvarez, Genocidal Crimes (2010), at 100–102.

98 Parmentier, S. and Weitekamp, E. G., ‘Political Crimes and Serious Violations of Human Rights: Towards a Criminology of International Crimes’, in Parmentier, S. and Weitekamp, E. G. (eds.), Crime and Human Rights (2007), 109–44Google Scholar.

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100 A. Chouliaras, ‘Discourses on International Criminality’, in Smeulers, supra note 80, 65 at 70–77.

note 80

101 Prosecutor v Kunarac et al., Judgment, Case No. IT-96-23 & IT-96-23/1-A, A. Ch., 12 June 2002, para. 98.

102 Prosecutor v. Martic, Judgment, Case No. IT-95-11-T, T. Ch., 12 June 2007, para. 49.

103 Prosecutor v. Kajelijeli, Judgment and Sentence, ICTR-98-44A-T, T. Ch., 1 December 2003, para. 872. Prosecutor v. Muhimana, Judgment and Sentence, Case No. ICTR-95-1B-T, T. Ch., 28 April 2005, para. 527.

104 Article 21(l)(a) ICCSt. obliges the Court to apply ‘in the first place, this Statute, Elements of Crimes and its Rules of Procedure and Evidence’.

105 Situation in the Republic of Kenya, Decision Pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute on the Authorization of an Investigation into the Situation in the Republic of Kenya, ICC-01/09, Pre-T. Ch. IΙ, 31 March 2010.

106 Ibid., para. 92.


107 Ibid., para. 90 (footnote omitted).


108 Ibid., para. 93. For a critical appraisal of this teleological construction of the term ‘organization’ see Kress, C., ‘On the Outer Limits of Crimes against Humanity. The Concept of Organization within the Policy Requirement. Some Reflections on the March 2010 ICC Kenya Decision’, (2010) 23 LJIL 855CrossRefGoogle Scholar.


109 Situation in the Republic of Kenya, Dissenting Opinion of Judge Hans-Peter Kaul, ICC-01/09, 31 March 2010, para. 51.

110 Ibid., paras. 54–70. See also Kress, supra note 108, at 863–6. M. Holvoet, ‘The State or Organisational Policy Requirement within the Definition of Crimes Against Humanity in the Rome Statute: An Appraisal of the Emerging Jurisprudence and the Implementation Practice by ICC States Parties’, International Crimes Database, October 2013.

note 108

111 Situation en République Démocratique du Congo, Affaire Le Procureur c. Germain Katanga, Jugement rendu en application de l'article 74 du Statut, ICC- 01/04-01/07, La Chambre de Première Instance II, 7 Mars 2014, paras. 1118–22.

112 Situation In The Republic Of Côte D'Ivoire, Decision on the Confirmation of Charges against Laurent Gbagbo, ICC-02/11-01/11, Pre-T. Ch. I, 12 June 2014, para. 217.

113 See also the arguments in favour of an amendment of Art. 7 ICCSt. in C. Chernor Jalloh, ‘What Makes a Crime Against Humanity a Crime Against Humanity’, (2013) 28 American University International Law Review, at 435ff.

114 Werle and Burghardt, supra note 1, at 1167. In the same vein, Hansen, T. Obel, ‘The Policy Requirement in Crimes Against Humanity: Lessons from and for the Case of Kenya’, (2011) 43 George Washington International Law Review, 31 at 31 ffGoogle Scholar.

note 1

115 C. Frances Moran, ‘Beyond the State: The Future of International Criminal Law’, International Crimes Database, September 2014. The problem with such an approach is that ‘amounts to a misstatement of the proper relationship between international human rights law and international criminal law. While it is certainly possible to say that international criminal law has come to be an instrument to protect and enforce (a limited number of fundamental) international human rights there can be no presumption in favour of a broad teleological interpretation of international criminal law as a back door for a progressive development of international human rights law. The sequence can only be the other way round: only once the obligation of an organization to respect international human rights can be clearly established under general international law can a human-rights-inspired teleological argument to include such organizations in the policy requirement of crimes against humanity become available’. Kress, supra note 108, at 860–1.

note 108

116 A. A. Cançado Trindade, International Law for Humankind. Towards a New Jus Gentium (2010), at 372.

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A Strategic Choice: The State Policy Requirement in Core International Crimes
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A Strategic Choice: The State Policy Requirement in Core International Crimes
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