International Criminal Law

(2440.04) Course
Instructor(s): Professor H. Matthews

Description: Law in the face of mass atrocity reveals some of the most pressing issues confronting international law and lawyers today. This course will provide students with an introduction to the main concepts, rules and institutions of the field known as ‘international criminal law.’ It will explore the core international crimes of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, as well as terrorism. Students will gain a strong foundational knowledge of the field, including how it is situated in the broader contexts of public international law, domestic criminal law and international human rights law. In addition, this course will help students develop a critical toolkit with which to assess the global (individualized) legal regulation of political violence. The idea of the international criminal has come to occupy a huge amount of the global legal imaginary, especially since the end of the Cold War. He stands in, often at one and the same time, for the human rights violator, the political enemy, and the social, philosophical and theological scapegoat. However, while the core institutions, rules and structures of this (relatively) new legal field are well established, the goals of the field remain elusive and contradictory. International criminal law is said to, variously: subject the use of force to the rule of law, punish the worst crimes and deter their commission, provide an accurate historical record of mass atrocity, provide redress and reparation to victims, address threats to international peace and security, facilitate social transition from armed conflict and totalitarian regimes to democracy, and provide a common global vocabulary through which to articulate the legal regulation of acts that ‘shock the conscience of mankind.’ But these objectives do not sit easily together, either from a theoretical or a practical perspective. This course approaches international criminal law as a global policy tool with myriad and indeterminate potential effects. We will look at ‘international criminal law’ as a global criminal justice project deployed by specific actors for specific purposes. This course invites students to engage with international criminal law as active political agents, asking whether, and how, this body of law and set of institutions and practices could be strategically deployed to secure progressive ends. Using case studies and interactive learning, students will be asked to concretely evaluate the stakes of international criminal justice across a variety of jurisdictional contexts, asking how – and for whom – international criminal law might be a good or a bad thing. Historical, political, theoretical and aesthetic lenses will also be deployed throughout, challenging students to evaluate doctrine and case law in light of fundamental questions of global jurisdiction, constituency, effectiveness and legitimacy. We will particularly emphasize the place of film in the practice, scholarly study of, and activism around, international criminal justice questions.

Evaluation: (1) Class attendance and participation in class discussion: 30%; (2) Reaction Papers: Students will complete three (3) short papers (1,200 words each) critically engaging with class materials: 30% (3) Final Assignment: Students will select between Option A and Option B: Option A -- Twitter project: Students will create a Twitter account for the purpose of becoming critically engaged with the substance of and actors in the field of international criminal justice (50 tweets, or 2,000 words): 20% + Short critical book review (2,300 words, excluding footnotes and bibliography): 20% Option B -- Critical book review (4,300 words, excluding footnotes and bibliography): 40%







Fall: 4 credits; 4 hours
Max. Enrollment: 60
Prerequisite Courses: None
Preferred Courses: Public International Law
Presentation: Lectures, discussion, case studies, guest speakers
Upper Year Research & Writing Requirement: No
Praxicum: No