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Course Descriptions

Course Descriptions

International Criminal Law (Fall 2019)

  • Course Number: LAW-860
  • Class Number: 03479
  • Instructor: Hannah Garry

Course Description

This course is about the worst things people do to each other and what can be done about it under international law. Today, there are over 65 million people displaced from countries such as Syria and Sudan who are victims of mass atrocities—genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and aggression. Since World War II, there have been thousands of trials of individuals responsible for these heinous crimes.

This course introduces students to international criminal law—its historical development from the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust to the present, and how prosecutors bring a case against powerful leaders such as Al Bashir and Assad. Students learn about international law and courts trying these cases, while also reflecting on whether criminal trials are the best response for bringing healing and reconciliation to affected societies.

The objectives of this course are: 1) to provide an overview of the field of international criminal law, the reasons for its rapid development in the past 25 years, and the importance of understanding international criminal law with respect to current events; 2) to foster a clear understanding of the substantive law and means of enforcement of international criminal law internationally; 3) to analyze the efficacy and future of international criminal law as a means for punishing and deterring international crimes as well as in promoting international peace, reconciliation and security; and 4) to provide a foundation for those considering an internship or career in international criminal law.

In order to meet those objectives, we will begin the course with an historical overview of the evolution of international criminal law, with particular emphasis placed on the trials at Nuremberg and Tokyo post-World War II, and the explosion of international criminal jurisdictions from 1993 to the present. Next, we will discuss the definition of international criminal law, the sources of law that provide the basis for prosecution of international crimes, and the fundamental principles governing international criminal law. Thereafter, we will focus on the jurisdictional bases for enforcement of international criminal law. We will examine more closely the statutes and organization of international criminal courts and tribunals from post-WW II to the present including: the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals; the ad hoc international and “hybrid” criminal courts and tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, and Lebanon, among other jurisdictions; and the permanent International Criminal Court. The interplay between national and international jurisdictions will also be discussed.

Following our study of jurisdictions, most of the course will be spent on studying the substantive law relevant for an international criminal case, looking at the legal elements of the so-called “core-crimes” in international criminal law—war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and aggression. From there, we will discuss the legal elements for modes of liability for international crimes, that is, theories of responsibility connecting the defendants to the crime base. In addition, we will cover other topics that typically arise in an international criminal trial such as defenses, immunities and sentencing.

Students are advised that while this course is relevant and important for understanding how international law can be used to address the most serious human rights abuses, students should consider whether to enroll for two reasons.

First, some of the cases studied involve intense facts that have been charged, describing some of the worst of the worst acts that human beings are capable of perpetrating against each other. These traumatic facts depict mass killings, sexual violence, torture, persecutions, and other acts of similar gravity. Students should consider whether they are prepared to be exposed to such facts.

Second, this course’s workload reflects the 4 units that are awarded. The course involves reading and analysis of case law that covers a lot of material, both in breadth and depth. The course is a mix of international law, criminal law, criminal procedure and international relations all in one. The law is still evolving, which requires creative thinking to address unresolved issues. Students are expected to have read all of the assigned reading prior to class and to participate in in-depth discussion of the cases each class period. In addition, approximately every other week, the reading will involve working through “casebook problems”, which we will analyze together in class, in order to solidify our understanding of how to apply the law to different fact patterns.

There will be cold-calling as needed to facilitate the discussion. While students will be allowed to seek excused absences, regular classroom attendance and participation are required and will be factored in to the final grade. Falling behind in the reading or failing to attend class repeatedly is likely to have negative repercussions on your grade because the material builds upon itself.

Exceptions may be made for CR/D/F with instructor approval


Course Details

  • Unit Value: 4
  • Grading Options: Numerical Only
  • Exam: In-class exam
  • Writing Requirement: No
  • Skills/Experiential Unit Requirement: no
  • Participation: Required and graded