Order Code RL32605
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Genocide: Legal Precedent
Definition of the Crime
September 14, 2004
American Law Division
American Law Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Genocide: Legal Precedent Surrounding the Definition
of the Crime
The current situation in Darfur, Sudan, and the surrounding debate over whether
the Sudanese government’s actions constitute genocide or ethnic cleansing provides
the impetus for this report. This report presents a brief historical background on the
U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
(Genocide Convention), its ratification and implementation by the United States, and
its incorporation into the Rome Statute creating an International Criminal Court
(ICC). Decisions from the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia
(ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR) are analyzed to help determine when charges of
genocide have been found to be legitimate.
For legal purposes, genocide is a highly specific offense, and to be liable for it
an actor must commit certain acts against a designated group with an intent to destroy
the group, in whole or in part. Accordingly, a number of serious human rights
atrocities, such as the mass extermination of a civilian population, might not
constitute genocidal acts in certain circumstances, though they may nevertheless
constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.
The mental and physical elements of the crime of genocide each present their
own analytical requirements. This is primarily due to the crime’s highly sensitive
subject matter and the lack of cases prosecuting acts of genocide from the 1950s until
the 1990s. Over the past decade, international tribunal decisions have created an
influential understanding as to what constitutes genocide under international law.
They have also provided a real world context to an otherwise academic debate
regarding the applicability of the Genocide Convention. However, the legal definition
of the crime of genocide remains in a formative state. Both tribunals still have many
more cases to hear and judgments to render. Moreover, these decisions are not
binding precedent on the ICC or national courts, including those of the United States.
International legal developments concerning the crime of genocide will likely be
largely based on these courts’ approaches. This also applies to crimes against
humanity, such as ethnic cleansing, as the debate concerning the substantive
difference between genocide and ethnic cleansing continues to unfold.
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Obligations and Scope of the Genocide Convention . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
U.S. Ratification of the Genocide Convention . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
U.S. Implementation of Genocide Convention Requirements . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
International Prosecution of the Crime of Genocide . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
International Tribunals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Legal Elements of Genocide . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Mental Elements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Physical Elements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Ethnic Cleansing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Legal Elements of Ethnic Cleansing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Genocide: Legal Precedent Surrounding the
Definition of the Crime
The current situation in Darfur, Sudan, and the surrounding debate over what
actions constitute genocide provide the impetus for this report.1 The House, Senate,
and Secretary of State Colin Powell have each stated that genocide is occurring in
Darfur.2 Nevertheless, there has been some dispute over whether the situation in
Darfur actually constitutes genocide, as the term is understood under international
law. This report provides an overview of international law and jurisprudence
concerning the crime of genocide, and is provided to assist Congress in assessing
when present or future humanitarian crises constitute genocide under international
After World War II (WWII), the Allied Powers established the Nuremberg and
Tokyo tribunals to prosecute German and Japanese leaders for crimes against peace,
war crimes, and crimes against humanity.3 Genocide was not expressly included as
a ground for prosecution under either tribunal, as it had not yet officially been
recognized as a distinct international crime.4 In 1946, however, the U.N. General
Assembly passed a resolution declaring genocide to be a crime under international
law and recommending international cooperation between States to prevent and
punish such acts.5 Work thereafter began on the U.N. Convention on the Prevention
For background on the situation in Darfur, see CRS Report RS21862, Sudan: The Crisis
in Darfur and CRS Issue Brief IB98043, Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis, Peace Talks,
Terrorism, and U.S. Policy.
See H.Con.Res. 467, 108th Cong. (2004); S.Con.Res. 133, 108th Cong. 2004; The Crisis in
Darfur: Hearing Before the Senate Foreign Relations Comm. (Sept. 9, 2004) (statement of
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell).
Charter of the International Military Tribunal, Aug. 8, 1945, 59 Stat. 1546, 82 U.N.T.S.
284 [hereinafter “Nuremberg Charter”]; Charter of the International Military Tribunal for
the Far East, Jan. 19, 1946, T.I.A.S. No. 1589, reprinted in 4 Bevans 20 [hereinafter “Tokyo
However, the Nuremberg and Tokyo Charters defined “crimes against humanity” in a
manner that included many acts of genocide. See Nuremberg Charter art. 6(c) (defining
crimes against humanity to include “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 ...); Tokyo Charter art. 5(c) (defining
crimes against humanity in a manner similar to that in the Nuremberg Charter).
G.A. Res. 96(I), U.N. GAOR, 1st Sess., at 188-89, U.N. Doc. A/64/Add.1 (1946).
and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention), which entered
into force in 1951.6
The Genocide Convention recognizes genocide as a serious violation of
international law, defined by a set of physical elements (actus reus) and mental
elements (mens rea),7 and subject to criminal penalties regardless of whether
committed in times of war or peace,8 or by governmental or non-governmental
actors.9 The international prohibition of genocide is widely understood to have the
status of a jus cogens norm in international law — a peremptory rule which permits
no derogation by States.10 In an advisory opinion issued in 1951, the International
Court of Justice held that “the principles underlying the Convention are principles
which are recognized by civilized nations as binding on States, even without any
However, various terms and phrases within the Convention remained undefined
for several decades, largely due to an absence of cases prosecuting individuals for
committing genocide.12 Indeed, according to one commentator, for most of its
existence the Genocide Convention was “the forgotten convention, drafted in the
aftermath of the Holocaust but then relegated to obscurity as the human rights
movement focused on more ‘modern’ atrocities: apartheid, torture, disappearances.”13
Only recently has the Convention received renewed attention, following the
establishment of international tribunals by the U.N. Security Council to adjudicate
claims of genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Unlike the Nuremberg
and Tokyo tribunals established in the aftermath of WWII, the International Criminal
Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal
for Rwanda (ICTR) have express jurisdiction over the crime of genocide, in addition
to other violations of international humanitarian law.14 Both tribunals are actively
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, entered into force
Jan. 12,1951, 78 U.N.T.S. 277 [hereinafter “Genocide Convention”], art. 2.
See Report of the International Law Commission on the Work of its Forty-Eighth Session,
U.N. GAOR, 51st Sess., Supp. No. 10, U.N. Doc. A/51/10 (1996) [hereinafter “ILC
Report”], at 87.
Genocide Convention art. 1.
Id. art. 2.
See, e.g., RESTATEMENT (THIRD) OF FOREIGN RELATIONS, § 702, cmt. n (1987).
Reservations to the Convention on Genocide, Advisory Opinion, 1951 ICJ REP. 15,23
DAVID HIRSH, LAW AGAINST GENOCIDE 49-56 (2003).
William Schabas, United States Institute for Peace, Special Report 41: The Genocide
Convention at Fifty, Jan. 7, 1999 [hereinafter “USIP Report”], available at
See Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia [hereinafter
“Yugoslavia Statute”], arts. 2-5, available at
[http://www.un.org/icty/basic/statut/statute.htm]; Statute of the International Criminal
shaping international legal approaches to adjudicating the crime of genocide. In
addition, in 2002 the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established with
jurisdiction over the crime of genocide, but it has yet to decide its first case. Tribunal
decisions create an influential understanding as to what constitutes genocide under
international law, though none of their decisions are necessarily binding upon the
United States or the courts of other nations that have not submitted to the tribunals’
This report provides an overview of the current framework for prosecuting
individuals for genocide and analyzes tribunal case law concerning the nature of this
Obligations and Scope of the Genocide Convention
As of September 7, 2004, the United States and 134 other countries are Parties
to the Genocide Convention, which entered into force in 1951 after being ratified by
20 States. Parties to the Convention recognize that “genocide, whether committed
in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they
undertake to prevent and to punish.”15 Accordingly, if Member Parties declare an act
or activity to constitute “genocide,” they would appear to have a clear obligation
under the Genocide Convention to prevent and punish such action.16 Under the
United States system of government, the President is the “sole organ of the federal
government in the field of international relations,”17 and presumably the President (or
the State Department acting with his authorization) would have ultimate authority as
to whether or not to declare on behalf of the United States that a foreign act
The scope of this obligation to “prevent and punish,” however, remains
unclear.18 At the very least, Parties have an obligation under Convention Article 5
“to provide effective penalties for persons guilty of genocide or any other acts
enumerated.”19 Such “other acts” include (1) conspiring to commit genocide, (2)
attempting to commit genocide, (3) inciting others to commit genocide, and (4) being
complicit in the commission of genocide.20 In accordance with their domestic laws
and treaties, Parties to the Genocide Convention also pledge to make genocide an
Tribunal for Rwanda [hereinafter “Rwanda Statute”], arts. 2-4, available at
Genocide Convention art. 1.
Id. See MACHTELD BOOT, GENOCIDE, CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY, WAR CRIMES 447
United States v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., 299 U.S. 304, 320 (1936).
USIP Report, supra note 13.
Id. art. 5.
Id. art. 3.
extraditable offense.21 Persons responsible for genocidal acts are required to be
punished whether they are “constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or
The obligation to “undertake to prevent and to punish” genocide might arguably
be understood to impose an affirmative obligation upon a State to take other actions
against those committing acts of genocide beyond providing effective criminal
penalties against persons who commit genocidal acts. It does not appear certain that
such preventive and punitive efforts would necessarily include military measures,
given that the U.N. Charter generally prohibits Member States from engaging in
armed attacks against other countries unless those attacks were either made in selfdefense or authorized by the U.N. Security Council.23 Convention Article 8 does
provide that Convention Parties “may call upon the competent organs of the United
Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider
appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide,”24 but this
language appears to set forth a permissive option rather than a mandatory obligation.
Convention Article 2 defines genocide by stating both the mental elements and
physical elements of the crime. Article 2 reads:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed
with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious
group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring
about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The introductory statement (chapeau) of Article 2 identifies four sub-parts to the
mental element of the crime of genocide. These are (1) the intent, (2) to destroy, (3)
in whole or in part, (4) a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, as such. This is
followed by a listing of five physical actions that may constitute genocide if coupled
with the requisite intent. In order to demonstrate that an accused is guilty of
genocide, the prosecution must prove that a required physical act was committed with
the necessary mental intent.
Id. art. 7.
Id. art. 4.
See U.N. Charter arts. 2(4), 42, 51.
Genocide Convention art. 8 (ital. added).
U.S. Ratification of the Genocide Convention
The United States actively participated in drafting the Genocide Convention and
signed the treaty on December 11, 1948, two years before it entered into force.25
However, the Senate did not provide its advice and consent to Convention ratification
until February 19, 1986.26 Following the adoption of implementing legislation
making genocide a criminal offense in the United States,27 the United States
deposited its instrument of treaty ratification to the United Nations and became a
Party to the Genocide Convention on November 25, 1988.
The United States included certain reservations and understandings with respect
to treaty interpretation and application within its instruments of Convention
ratification, two of which are relevant to this report. The two conditions are:
(1) That the term “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical,
racial, or religious group as such” appearing in article [2 of the Genocide
Convention, defining the mental element of genocide] means the specific intent
to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious
group as such by the acts specified in article ; and
(2) That the term “mental harm” in article (b) means permanent impairment
of mental faculties through drugs, torture or similar techniques.28
U.S. Implementation of Genocide Convention Requirements
As previously mentioned, in order to comply with Genocide Convention
obligations, the United States was required to make genocide a criminal offense.
Under the U.S. statute criminalizing genocide, genocide can only be prosecuted under
U.S. federal law if (1) the offense was committed in the United States, or (2) the
alleged offender is a national of the United States.29 The United States has yet to use
this statute to bring charges against a person for genocide, possibly because of the
statute’s limited applicability.
There are a few notable differences between the scope of the Genocide
Convention’s definition of genocide and that of the U.S. statute criminalizing
genocide. Whereas the Genocide Convention states that a person may be found
For additional background, see SEN. EXEC. REP. NO. 99-2 (1985), reprinted in 1987
U.S.C.A.N. 13626 (1989).
Id. at 1.
Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987, Pub. L. No. 100-606, 102 Stat. 3045
(1988) (codified at 18 U.S.C. §§1091-1093).
U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Convention on the Prevention
and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, List of Convention Participants, at
[http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/treaty1gen.htm]. See also SEN. EXEC. REP. NO. 99-2,
supra note 25.
18 U.S.C. § 1091. For purposes of subsection (d)(2), a national of the United States is
defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. § 1101).
guilty of genocide if he acted with the intent to destroy a protected group, the U.S.
criminal statute defines the mental element of genocide as requiring the actor to
possess the “specific intent to destroy ... a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group
as such.”30 Additionally, whereas the Genocide Convention states that this intent
must be to destroy the group “in whole or in part,” the U.S. statute requires the
actor’s intent to be the destruction of the group “in whole or substantial part.”31 As
will be discussed later, both of these changes correspond with international tribunal
precedent interpreting the Genocide Convention and are also in line with U.S.
reservations to the Convention.
The acts covered under the U.S. statute criminalizing genocide are specified in
greater detail than the acts covered by the Genocide Convention. The Convention
lists the physical elements of the crime of genocide as including, inter alia, “causing
serious bodily or mental harm to members of the [protected] group.”32 The U.S.
statute criminalizing genocide divides this element into two parts, and it further
specifies acts constituting mental harm of a genocidal nature. If the requisite
genocidal intent is fulfilled, a person can be convicted under U.S. law for either (1)
causing serious bodily injury to members of a protected group or (2) causing the
permanent impairment of the mental facilities of members of the group through
drugs, torture, or similar techniques.33
Genocide is also an extraditable offense, meaning that the United States may
surrender a person accused of committing genocide to another State if that State has
jurisdiction over the offense and an extradition treaty with the United States that
permits his or her transfer. Likewise, the United States may request a country to
surrender a person so that the person may be prosecuted under the U.S. statute
International Prosecution of the Crime of Genocide
International Tribunals. Although the Genocide Convention has been in
force for over 50 years, it was not until the 1990s that international tribunals were
established to adjudicate cases concerning genocide. In 1993, prompted by Serbian
attacks targeted against Muslim and Croat civilians living in Bosnia and
Herzegovina, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution establishing the
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia through the power granted
to the Security Council under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.34 The
18 U.S.C. § 1091(a) (ital. added).
Id. (ital. added).
Genocide Convention art. 2.
18 U.S.C. § 1091(a)(2)-(3).
S.C. Res. 827, U.N. SCOR, 3217th mtg., U.N. Doc. S/RES/827 (1993). The U.N. Security
Council is the primary U.N. organ responsible for the maintenance of international peace
and security, and it is authorized to take measures necessary to maintain or restore
international peace and security, including the authorization of military force by U.N.
Member States. U.N. CHARTER chap. VII. The Security Council’s authority to establish
ICTY is composed of three separate organs: a prosecutorial organ, an adjudicative
organ, and a secretariat.35 The prosecutorial organ consists of the Prosecutor, legal
advisors and investigators.36 The adjudicative organ contains multiple trial chambers
of three judges each, and one appellate chamber of seven judges.37 The secretariat
provides administrative services for the prosecutorial and adjudicative organs.38
The ICTY’s subject matter jurisdiction is divided into four areas relating to the
situation in the former Yugoslavia: (1) grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva
Conventions, (2) violations of the laws or customs of war, (3) genocide, and (4)
crimes against humanity.39 The Tribunal has personal jurisdiction over natural
persons, but not over “organi[z]ations, political parties, administrative entities or
other legal subjects.”40 The statute creating the ICTY defines responsible individuals
as “person[s] who planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and
abetted in the planning, preparation or execution” of specified crimes in the former
Yugoslavia.41 Heads of State or other responsible government officials are held fully
accountable for crimes they commit,42 as well as crimes that their subordinates
commit, provided that the Head of State “knew or had reason to know that the
subordinate was about to commit such acts or had done so and the superior failed to
take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the
perpetrators thereof.”43 Subordinates are not relieved of criminal responsibility if
they were following orders to commit criminal acts. However, their punishment
may be mitigated if justice so requires.44 The ICTY has concurrent jurisdiction with
national courts,45 although it has primacy whenever such jurisdiction is conflicting.46
international tribunals also derives from Chapter VI, Article 29 of the U.N. Charter, which
provides that “[t]he Security Council may establish such subsidiary organs as it deems
necessary for the performance of its functions.”
STEPHEN R. RATNER & JASON S. ABRAMS, ACCOUNTABILITY FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
ATROCITIES IN INTERNATIONAL LAW 192 (2001).
Yugoslavia Statute arts. 2-5.
United Nations, The ICTY At a Glance, General Information, at
Yugoslavia Statute art.7(1).
Id. art. 7(2).
Id. art. 7(3).
Id. art. 7(4).
Id. art. 9(1) (“[the ICTY] and national courts shall have concurrent jurisdiction to
prosecute persons for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the
territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1 January 1991").
Id. art. 9(2) (“[the ICTY] shall have primacy over national courts. At any stage of the
The ICTY completed its first case in January 2000.47 As of July 2004, 103 accused
have appeared in proceedings before the tribunal, with 51 accused having received
a trial judgment and 30 persons having received a final sentence.48
In 1994, the U.N. Security Council established the International Criminal
Tribunal for Rwanda in response to the mass killing of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda.49
The Tribunal’s subject matter and personal jurisdiction generally mirror that of the
ICTY with deviations reflecting situational differences.50 Its organizational structure
is identical to that of the ICTY, with both tribunals also sharing a common appellate
chamber.51 The ICTR has concurrent jurisdiction with concerned States to prosecute
persons for certain offenses relating to Rwanda, and has primacy over national courts
whenever such jurisdiction is conflicting.52 As of July 2004, the ICTR has completed
22 cases.53 Another 19 accused are currently on trial, and 23 accused are still
The establishment of the ICC on July 1, 2002 created a permanent tribunal for
the prosecution of international humanitarian crimes.55 The ICC came into being
after 60 States ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.56
The ICC has subject matter jurisdiction over the crime of genocide, crimes
procedure, the International Tribunal may formally request national courts to defer to the
competence of the International Tribunal in accordance with the present Statute and the
Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the International Tribunal”).
International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, The ICTY At a Glance, Overview of
ICTY Cases, at [http://www.un.org/icty/glance/index.htm].
International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, Key Figures of ICTY Cases, at
[http://www.un.org/icty/cases/factsheets/procfact-e.htm] (last accessed Aug. 9, 2004).
S.C. Res. 955, U.N. SCOR, 49th Sess., U.N. Doc S/RES/955 (1994).
Compare Yugoslavia Statute, arts. 1-6 with Rwanda Statute, arts. 1-5. See also WILLIAM
SCHABAS, GENOCIDE IN INTERNATIONAL LAW 100 (2000) (“[the Rwanda] Statute closely
resembles that of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, although
the war crimes provisions reflect the fact that the Rwandan genocide took place within the
context of a purely internal armed conflict”); see RATNER, supra note 35, at chs. 2-4.
RATNER, supra note 35, at 202.
Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda [hereinafter “Rwanda Statute”],
art. 8, available at [http://www.ictr.org/ENGLISH/basicdocs/statute.html].
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Completed Cases,
[http://www.ictr.org/ENGLISH/cases/completed.htm] (last accessed Aug. 9, 2004).
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR Detainees — Status on 19 July 2004,
at [http://www.ictr.org/ENGLISH/factsheets/detainee.htm] (last accessed Aug. 9, 2004).
For an overview of the ICC, see CRS Report RL31437, International Criminal Court:
Overview and Selected Legal Issues.
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,, July 17, 1998, U.N. Doc.
A/CONF.183/9 [hereinafter “Rome Statute”], available at
against humanity and war crimes.57 The ICC also has jurisdiction over the crime
of aggression if a provision is adopted defining the crime and determining the
Court’s jurisdiction over it.58 Unlike ad hoc tribunals which have concurrent
jurisdiction with national courts and primacy over them, the ICC only has
complementary jurisdiction. This means that the ICC cannot hear a case if a
State with jurisdiction is investigating or prosecuting the matter, unless the State
is unwilling or unable to take such actions in good-faith.59
Article 6 of the Rome Statute incorporates verbatim the mental and physical
elements of the crime of genocide as listed in the Genocide Convention. While the
Rome Statute and the Genocide Convention share the same definition of “genocide,”
they might differ in their assessment of individual criminal responsibility for
genocide. Unlike the Genocide Convention, the Rome Statute does not expressly
recognize the crimes of conspiracy and complicity in the commission of genocide,
though the Statute does recognize criminal liability for persons who commit genocide
“through another person.”60 Additionally, whereas the Genocide Convention
criminalizes attempted acts of genocide, the Rome Statute criminalizes both
attempted acts of genocide and aiding and abetting acts (or attempted acts) of
genocide.61 As of September 2, 2004, 139 States have signed the Rome Statute and
94 have ratified it.62 Although the United States signed the Statute on December 31,
2000,63 on May 6, 2002, it formally renounced any obligations under the treaty.64
Legal Elements of Genocide
Both the ICTY and ICTR have ruled upon the legal elements comprising the
crime of genocide. As discussed below, these rulings concern both the mental and
physical components of the crime of genocide. As mentioned previously, these
holdings are not domestically binding upon the United States, but they may influence
international legal trends concerning the determination of when genocide occurs.
Mental Elements. In order for a person to commit genocide, he or she must
possess the requisite frame of mind.65 For purposes of the Genocide Convention, a
Id. art. 5(1).
Id. art. 5(2)(“[t]he Court shall exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression once a
provision is adopted ... defining the crime and setting out the conditions under which the
Court shall exercise jurisdiction with respect to this crime. Such a provision shall be
consistent with the relevant provisions of the Charter of the United Nations”).
Id. art. 17.
Compare id. art. 25(3) with Genocide Convention art. 3.
Rome Statute art. 25(3)(c).
A listing of States that have signed, ratified, and/or accepted the Rome Statute is available
Prosecutor v. Musema, Case No. ICTR 16-3-A, ICTR Trial Chamber I Judgment and
person may be found guilty of genocide only if it is demonstrated that he acted with
(1) the intent (2) to destroy, (3) in whole or in part, (4) a national, ethnic, racial or
religious group, as such.66 The following sections address each of these components
of the mental element of genocide separately.
“Intent”. Under the Genocide Convention, to be found guilty of committing
genocide the accused must have acted with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part,
a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”67 Tribunals discussing the intent
requirement of the Genocide Convention have concluded that it is specific rather than
general in nature, and have used terms such as special intent, specific intent, dolus
specialis, particular intent, and genocidal intent to describe it.68 This understanding
coincides with the “specific intent” requirement of the U.S. genocide statute.69
Specific intent “requires performance of the actus reus but in association with an
intent or purpose that goes beyond the mere performance of the act.”70
In practice, tribunals have found that specific intent can be inferred from actions
taken by the accused, even if the accused’s specific intent to commit genocide was
never proclaimed. In Prosecutor v. Jelisic, the ICTY Appeals Chamber stated that:
As to proof of specific intent, it may, in the absence of direct explicit evidence,
be inferred from a number of facts and circumstances, such as the general
context, the perpetuation of other culpable acts systematically directed against
the same group, the scale of atrocities committed, the systematic targeting of
victims on account of their membership of a particular group, or the repetition
of destructive and discriminatory acts.71
Sentence (Jan. 27, 2000) [hereinafter “Musema Judgment”], para. 164, available at
[http://www.ictr.org/ENGLISH/cases/Musema/judgement/index.htm] (“[a] person may be
convicted of genocide only where it is established that he committed one of the acts referred
to under Article 2(2) of the Statute with the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part,
a particular protected group”).
Genocide Convention art. 2.
Prosecutor v. Jelisic, Case No. IT IT-95-10, ICTY Appeals Chamber Judgment (Jul. 5,
2001) [hereinafter “Jelisic Appeals Chamber”), para. 45, available at
[http://www.un.org/icty/jelisic/appeal/judgement/index.htm]. See also Musema Judgment,
paras. 164-167 (referring to specific intent and dolus specialis interchangeably); Prosecutor
v. Jean Paul Akayesu, Case No. ICTR-96-4-T, ICTR Trial Chamber I Judgment (Sept. 2,
1998) [hereinafter “Akayesu Judgment”], para. 498 , available at
[http://www.ictr.org/ENGLISH/cases/Akayesu/judgement/akay001.htm] (“[g]enocide is
distinct from other crimes inasmuch as it embodies a special intent or dolus specialis”).
18 U.S.C. § 1091(a).
SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 218. See also BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 814 (7th ed. 1999)
(defining “specific intent” as “the intent to accomplish the precise criminal act that one is
later charged with”).
Jelisic Appeals Chamber, para. 47.
In Jelisic, the defendant was accused of systematically killing Muslims in the
detention camp of Lucka and the town of Brcko.72 After reviewing evidence on the
accused’s actions, the Trial Chamber stated that “the material element of the crime
of genocide has been satisfied.”73 However, the Trial Chamber held that “although
[Jelisic] obviously singled out Muslims,” he did not demonstrate the necessary
specific intent.74 This is mostly due to evidence that he randomly released
detainees,http75 and that his personality revealed “opportunistic and inconsistent
behaviors.”76 Therefore, the Trial Chamber concluded that the Prosecutor had not
demonstrated that the defendant possessed genocidal intent, since “the Prosecutor has
not provided sufficient evidence allowing it to be established . . . that there existed
a plan to destroy the Muslim group.”77 The Appeals Chamber disagreed with this
reasoning, stating that “the existence of a plan or policy is not a legal ingredient of
the crime. However, in the context of proving specific intent, the existence of a plan
or policy may become an important factor in most cases.”78 The Appeals Chamber
then inferred an intent by the accused to commit genocide from the facts and
circumstances of the case.79
This approach has also been applied by the ICTR. In Prosecutor v. Akayesu, the
ICTR Trial Chamber stated:
[I]t is possible to infer the genocidal intention . . . of a particular act, inter alia,
from all acts or utterances of the accused, or from the general context in which
other culpable acts were perpetrated systematically against the same group,
regardless of whether such other acts were committed by the same perpetrator or
even by other perpetrators.80
In Akayesu, the accused oversaw and participated in the widespread massacre of
Tutsi civilians.81 In determining the defendant’s specific intent, the Akayesu Trial
Chamber looked to ICTY decisions that inferred intent “from a number of facts such
as the general political doctrine which gave rise to the acts . . .or the repetition of
destructive and discriminatory acts.”82
Prosecutor v. Jelisic, Case No. IT IT-95-10, ICTY Trial Chamber I Judgment (Dec. 14,
1999) [hereinafter “Jelisic Trial Chamber”], para. 3, available at
Id. para. 65.
Id. para. 108.
Id. paras. 94,106.
Id. para. 105.
Id. para. 98.
Jelisic Appeals Chamber, para. 48.
Id. para. 47.
Akayesu Judgment, para. 728.
Id. para. 193.
Id. para. 524, citing Prosecutor v. Karadzic and Mladic, Case Nos. ICTY-95-5/18,
Both the ICTY and ICTR have also inferred intent “from the perpetration of
acts which violate, or which the perpetrators themselves consider to violate the very
foundation of the group — acts which are not in themselves covered by the list in
[Article 2 of the Genocide Convention] but which are committed as part of the same
pattern of conduct.”83 This includes the “combined effect of speeches or projects
laying the groundwork for and justifying the acts, from the massive scale of their
destructive effect and from their specific nature, which aims at undermining what is
considered to be the foundation of the group.”84
Another issue in determining specific intent is whether to consider the accused’s
personal motives.85 Although the Genocide Convention does not list applicable
motives, the issue was widely debated during the Convention’s formation.86 The Ad
Hoc Committee of 1948 included a list of motives in its draft of the Genocide
Convention. It stated that genocide must be committed “on grounds of the national
or racial origin, [or] religious belief ... of [the] members [of the group].”87 Although
this language was not included in the final text, some countries sought to include the
words “as such” at the end of the chapeau to incorporate a motive requirement.88
Consideration of the Indictment within the Framework of Rule 61 of the Rules of Procedure
and Evidence (Jul. 11, 1996) [hereinafter “Karadzic and Mladic”], para. 94.
Id., citing Karadzic and Mladic, para. 95.
Id. para. 524.
See SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 245 (summarizing the role of motive in criminal law).
Schabas explains “It should be noted at the outset that:
[I]ntent and motive are not interchangeable notions. Several individuals may
intend to commit the same crime, but for different motives. Domestic criminal
law systems rarely require proof of motive, in addition to proof of intent, as an
element of the offence. Under ordinary circumstances, a motive requirement
unnecessarily narrows the offence, and allows individuals who have intentionally
committed the prohibited act to escape conviction. This is not to say that motive
is irrelevant. Evidence of motive or lack of it may always be germane to the
outcome of a trial. If an accused can prove lack of motive, this will colour
assessment of ostensibly inculpatory factors, especially if the evidence is
indirect. Finally, motive will normally be taken into account in assessing the
appropriate penalty once the offender’s guilt has been determined ... A crime
driven by passion will not be punished as severely as one motivated by avarice
or pure sadism.
SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 245-256 (detailing the debate over the inclusion of a motive
requirement in the Genocide Convention); BOOT, supra note 16, at 410-11.
Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Genocide to the Economic and Social Council on the
Meetings of the Committee Held at Lake Success, New York, from April 5 to May 10, 1948,
U.N. ESCOR, 7th Sess., Supp. No. 6, U.N. Doc. E/794 (1948) [hereinafter “Ad Hoc
Committee Draft”], art. 2.
SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 250. Venezuela, which proposed the inclusion of the words
as such, argued that the phrase “as such” would “give wider powers of discretion to the
judges who would be called upon to deal with cases of genocide .... The adoption of the
Although the words were included, their official meaning was not agreed upon and
remains open to debate.89
The International Tribunals have not decided this issue conclusively, although
it has been addressed. In Prosecutor v. Tadic, the ICTY Appeals Chamber, in an
effort to strengthen jurisprudence on this issue, discussed hypothetical scenarios
where a defendant would be unjustly acquitted simply by asserting a personal motive
behind his or her efforts to destroy members of a group protected under the Genocide
Convention.90 In Tadic, the accused severely injured and inhumanely treated a
number of Muslims.91 The accused was not charged with genocide but with war
crimes and crimes against humanity.92 However, the Chamber explicitly discussed
the crime of genocide in making its determination of the significance of the accused’s
personal motives in assessing intent:http
Imagine a high-ranking SS official who claims that he participated in the
genocide of the Jews and Gypsies for the “purely personal” reason that he had
a deep-seated hatred of Jews and Gypsies and wished to exterminate them, and
for no other reason . . . . Similarly, if the same man said that he participated in
the genocide only for the “purely personal” reason that he feared losing his job,
he would also be entitled to an acquittal . . . . In the final analysis, any accused
that played a role in mass murder purely out of self-interest would be acquitted.
This shows the meaninglessness of any analysis requiring proof of “nonpersonal” motives.93
In making its decision, the Tadic Chamber stated that “under customary law,
‘purely personal motives’ do not acquire any relevance for establishing whether or
not a crime against humanity has been perpetrated.”94 Moreover, even if the accused
could prove a personal motive, specific intent would still be met “provided . . . that
the crimes [were] committed in the context of widespread or systematic crimes
directed against a civilian population and that the accused [knew] that his acts . . .
Venezuelan amendment would enable the judges to take into account other motives than
those listed [expressly by the Convention].” Id., quoting U.N. GAOR 6th Comm., 3rd Sess.,
U.N. Doc. A/C.6/SR.77 (1948) (Perez-Perozo, Venezuela).
Id. at 251-56 (providing overview of academic writing and tribunal case law on the
relevance of the term “as such” in the Genocide Convention, and concluding that the issue
Prosecutor v. Tadic, Case No. IT-94-1, ICTY Appeals Chamber Judgment (Jul. 15, 1999)
[hereinafter “Tadic Appeals Chamber”], para. 270, available at
Prosecutor v. Tadic, Case No. IT-94-1, ICTY Trial Chamber II Opinion and Judgment
(May 7, 1997), para. 730, available at
Id. paras. 722-765.
Tadic Appeals Chamber, para. 169.
Id. para. 270.
‘fitted into such a pattern.’”95 The Jelisic Appeals Chamber concurred and stated that
the specific intent required for genocide could potentially be met even if the
perpetrator’s personal motivation was “to obtain personal economic benefits, or
political advantage, or some form of power.”96
“To Destroy”. For purposes of the Genocide Convention, the intent to
“destroy” a protected group refers only to the intent to cause its material destruction
by physical or biological means,http97 and not an intent to destroy the “national,
linguistic, religious, cultural or other identity of a particular group.”98 For example,
the intent to exterminate an ethnic group could constitute an element of the crime of
genocide, while the intent to require an ethnic group to speak a different language
This element was discussed extensively in the ICTY case of Prosecutor v.
Krstic. In Krstic, the accused displaced and systematically murdered Muslims living
in Srebrenica, a town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina.99 The Trial Chamber found
the defendant guilty of murder, persecution, and genocide.100
On appeal, the defense argued that the group was not physically destroyed since
only men posing a military threat were killed,http101 and the targeted women, children
and elderly were only geographically displaced.102 However, the Appeals Chamber
affirmed the conviction, holding that the accused intended to physically destroy the
group.103 Evidence indicated that the accused killed civilian males, many of whom
were unable to fight due to age or physical disability, as well as professional
soldiers.104 Therefore, the Chamber concluded that men in Srebrenica were
“deliberately and methodically killed . . . solely on the basis of their identity.”105
With respect to the geographical displacement of Muslim women, children, and
elderly, the Chamber stated that removing “all Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica,
[and] thereby eliminating even the residual possibility that the Muslim community
in the area could reconstitute itself,” may indicate an intent to destroy for purposes
Id. para. 255.
Jelisic Appeals Chamber, para. 49.
Prosecutor v. Krstic, Case No. IT-98-33-A, ICTY Appeals Chamber Judgment (Apr. 19
2004) [hereinafter “Krstic Appeals Chamber”], para. 25, available at
ILC Report, supra note 7, at 90.
Krstic Appeals Chamber, para. 2.
Prosecutor v. Krstic, Case No. IT-98-33-A, ICTY Trial Chamber I Judgment (Aug. 2,
2001) [hereinafter “Krstic Trial Chamber”], para. 719, available at
Krstic Appeals Chamber, para. 30.
Id. para. 24.
Id. paras. 26-7.
Id. para. 37.
of the Genocide Convention.106 Given the Bosnian Muslim community’s dependence
on men for survival and religious prohibitions on a Muslim woman’s ability to
remarry, an intent to destroy existed since actions taken against the community
“potentially consigned [it] to extinction.”107
“In Whole or in Part”. Once an intent to destroy a group has been
determined, the court hearing a claim of genocide must assess whether the scope of
the intended destruction was extensive enough to constitute genocide.108 The words
“in whole or in part” make clear that an intent to completely destroy a group
protected by the Genocide Convention is not necessary for a person to be guilty of
genocide. According to the International Law Commission, a U.N. body established
to promote the codification and progressive development of international law, “it is
not necessary to intend to achieve the complete annihilation of a group from every
corner of the globe. Nonetheless, the crime of genocide by its very nature requires the
intention to destroy at least a substantial part of a particular group.”109
Both the ICTY and ICTR have discussed the meaning of “substantial part” for
purposes of the Genocide Convention. In the ICTR case of Prosecutor v.
Bagilishima, the Trial Chamber agreed with the International Law Commission and
stated, “[a]lthough the destruction sought need not be directed at every member of
the targeted group, the Chamber considers that the intention to destroy must target
at least a substantial part of the group.”110 In Prosecutor v. Kayishema and
Ruzindana, the ICTR Trial Chamber defined ‘in part’ as “the intention to destroy a
considerable number of individuals who are part of the group.”111 It also reiterated
a statement from the U.N. Expert Study on Genocide, which said that “‘in part’
would seem to imply a reasonably significant number, relative to the total of the
group as a whole, or else a significant section of a group such as its leadership.
Hence, both proportionate scale and total number are relevant.”112
The ICTY expounded upon the U.N. Expert Study’s meaning of “in part” in
Prosecutor v. Sikirica. In that case, the ICTY Trial Chamber divided its analysis of
Id. para. 31.
Krstic Appeals Chamber, para. 28.
Prosecutor v. Milosevic, Case No. IT-02-54-T, ICTY Trial Chamber III Judgment (Jun.
16, 2004) [hereinafter “Milosevic Trial Chamber”], para. 127, available at
ILC Report, supra note 7, at 89 (ital. added).
Prosecutor v. Bagilishema, Case No. ICTR-95-1A-T, Trial Chamber I (Jun. 7, 2001),
para. 64, available at
Prosecutor v. Kayishema and Ruzindana, Case No. ICTR-95-1-T, ICTR Trial Chamber
II Judgment (May 21, 1999) [hereinafter “Kayishema and Ruzindana Judgment”], para. 97,
available at [http://www.ictr.org/ENGLISH/cases/KayRuz/judgement/index.htm].
Id. para. 96, quoting Revised and Updated Report on the Question of the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, prepared by Benjamin Whitaker, U.N. ESCOR, 38th
Sess., U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/6 (1985) [hereinafter “U.N. Study on Genocide”], at
whether the accused intended to destroy a group “in whole or in part” into two
elements: (1) whether the defendant intended to destroy a “reasonably substantial
number relative to the total population of the group,” and (2) whether the defendant
intended to destroy a “significant section of the group, such as its leadership.”113 The
Chamber explained that when the evidence is insufficient “in relation to each element
in isolation,” intent can also be determined by considering the evidence from both
factors “as a whole.”114
In the Sikirica case, the defendant detained and killed male Muslims and Croats
from the Prijedor municipality of Bosnia and Herzegovina.115 Although the
defendant did not seek to destroy the entire group of Muslims and non-Serbs living
in Bosnia and Herzegovina,http116 he was charged with “the intent to eliminate
Muslim and non-Serb males in the [municipality of] Prijedor in part.”117 The
prosecution argued that the defendant committed genocide by intending “to destroy
not only a substantial part of the community of Bosnian Muslim detainees in
Keraterm and Omarska Camps, but also the leadership of that group, including those
members defending non-Serbs.”118 Although several camps existed in the Prijedor
municipality, the court’s analysis was limited to one camp, Keraterm, since the
number of detainees was not known for the other camps.119 In determining the first
element of whether a reasonably substantial number of people were destroyed relative
to the total population of the group, the Chamber found that only 2 to 2.8% of
Muslims and a “very small” number of Croats from the Prijedor municipality were
detained at Keraterm, and they would therefore “hardly qualify as a ‘reasonably
substantial’” part of the group.120
Prosecutor v. Sikirica, Case No. IT-95-8, ICTY Trial Chamber III Judgment on Defense
Motions to Acquit (Sept. 3, 2001) [hereinafter “Sikirica Trial Chamber Judgment on
Defense Motions to Acquit”], para. 65, available at
[http://www.un.org/icty/sikirica/judgement/index.htm]. Unlike the U.N. Study on Genocide,
“[t]he [Sikirica Trial] Chamber believes that it is more appropriate to speak of a ‘reasonably
substantial’ rather than a ‘reasonably significant’ number.” This corresponds to the first
condition in the U.S. ratification legislation on the Genocide Convention requiring that “the
acts specified in article II . . . affect a substantial part of the group concerned.” Id. See also
Jelisic Trial Chamber, para. 81 (“[t]he intention demonstrated by the accused to destroy a
part of the group would therefore have to affect either a major part of the group or a
representative fraction thereof, such as its leaders”).
Sikirica Trial Chamber Judgment on Defense Motions to Acquit, para. 65.
Prosecutor v. Sikirica, Case No. IT-95-8, ICTY Trial Chamber III Sentencing Judgment
(Nov. 13, 2001), available at
[http://www.un.org/icty/sikirica/judgement/index_2.htm], paras. 1,18.
Sikirica Trial Chamber Judgment on Defense Motions to Acquit, para. 33.
Id. para. 30.
Id. para. 32.
Id. para. 71.
Id. para. 72-3.
Under the second part of the analysis, the Sikirica Chamber assessed whether
“the destruction [was] related to a significant section of the group, such as its
leadership.”121 In defining the group’s leadership, the Chamber explained that it was
“looking for Bosnian Muslims who, whether by reason of their official duties or by
reason of their personality, had this special quality of directing the actions or opinions
of the group in question, that is those with significant influence on its actions.”122
The Sikirica Chamber found that “very little evidence has been adduced as to the
leadership status [of those whose professions were known] .... [They did] not appear
to have been persons with any special significance to their community, except to the
extent some of them were of military age ....”123
Although the Sikirica Chamber upheld the defendant’s motion for acquittal
based on the foregoing evidence, the court noted that the extent of the actual
destruction did not in itself indicate whether the defendant intended to destroy a
group in whole or in part.124 However, the Chamber concluded that “when [these
facts are] considered along with other aspects of the evidence, it becomes clear that
this is not a case in which the intent to destroy a substantial number of Bosnian
Muslims or Bosnian Croats can properly be inferred.”125 Subsequently in the Krstic
case, the ICTY Appeals Chamber stated that, “[i]n addition to the numeric size of the
targeted portion, its prominence within the group can be a useful consideration. If a
specific part of the group is emblematic of the overall group, or is essential to its
survival, that may support a finding that the part qualifies as substantial . . . .”126
“A National, Ethnic, Racial, or Religious Group, as Such”. Although
genocidal acts target individuals, these individuals are chosen because of their
membership in a larger group.127 In Sikirica, the ICTY Trial Chamber stated that
“[w]hereas it is the individuals that constitute the victims of most crimes, the ultimate
victim of genocide is the group, although its destruction necessarily requires the
commission of crimes against its members, that is, the individuals belonging to that
group.”128 This is also emphasized by the phrase “as such” in the Genocide
Convention’s definition of protected groups, which is understood to mean that “the
evidence must establish that it is the group that has been targeted, and not merely
specific individuals within that group.”129
Id. para. 76.
Sikirica Trial Chamber Judgment on Defense Motions to Acquit, para. 78.
Id. para. 80.
Id. para. 75.
Krstic Appeals Chamber, para. 12.
Milosevic Trial Chamber, para. 123.
Sikirica Trial Chamber Judgment on Defense Motions to Acquit, para. 89. See also
Akayesu Judgment , para. 521.
Sikirica Trial Chamber Judgment on Defense Motions to Acquit , para. 89.
The Genocide Convention’s application is limited to the protection of national,
ethnic, racial or religious groups.130 Other groups, such as political groups, were
excluded from the listing of protected groups.131 One reported reason for their
omission was because the Convention was intended to protect permanent and
“stable” groups joined at birth, as opposed to “mobile” groups based on voluntary
In Akayesu, the ICTR attempted to define the Convention’s four enumerated
groups. The Akayesu Trial Chamber defined nationality as “a collection of people
who are perceived to share a legal bond based on common citizenship, coupled with
reciprocity of rights and duties.”133 The Chamber defined an ethnic group as “a
group whose members share a common language or culture.”134 Racial groups were
determined by “the hereditary physical traits often identified with a geographical
region, irrespective of linguistic, cultural, national or religious factors.”135 A
religious group was understood to be “one whose members share the same religion,
denomination or mode of worship.”136
One area of continuing ambiguity is whether permanent and stable groups that
are entered into at birth but are not clearly of a national, ethnic, racial or religious
nature are also protected by the Convention.137 In Akayesu, the Trial Chamber
concluded that the Tutsi did not constitute an “ethnic group”distinct from the Hutu
because they shared the same language and culture.138 Nonetheless, the Trial
Chamber held that the Tutsi were a stable and permanent group protected by the
Genocide Convention, since Hutu and Tutsi group members and local authorities
treated the Tutsi as a distinct ethnicity.139 The subjective approach employed in
Akayesu to determine whether persons constituted a protected group under the
Genocide Convention was expanded in the ICTY case of Kayishema and Ruzindana,
where the Trial Chamber defined an ethnic group as one which “distinguishes itself,
Genocide Convention art. 2.
See generally SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 134-45; BOOT, supra note 16, at 426. The
original Convention drafts presented by the U.N. Secretariat and the Ad Hoc Committee
listed political groups among the groups protected against the crime of genocide (the
Secretariat’s draft also included linguistic groups), but these groups were omitted in the final
text of the Convention. Draft Convention on the Crime of Genocide, U.N. SecretaryGeneral, U.N. Doc E/447, at art. 1 (1947); Ad Hoc Committee Draft art. 2.
Akayesu Judgement, para. 511 (citing Summary Records of the Meetings of the Sixth
Committee of the General Assembly, 21 September - 10 December 1948, Official Records
of the General Assembly). See ILC Report, supra note 7, at 89; BOOT, supra note 16, at 426.
Akayesu Judgment, para. 512.
Id. para. 513.
Id. para. 514.
Id. para. 515.
BOOT, supra note 16, at 431.
See Akayesu Judgment, para 170-72, 702.
as such (self-identification); or a group identified as such by others, including
perpetrators of the crimes (identification by others).”140
The ICTY took the subjective approach used by the ICTR even further in
Prosecutor v. Jelsic. In this case, the ICTY Trial Chamber stated that for purposes
of determining whether persons constitute a “group” covered by the Genocide
Convention, groupings should not be defined objectively but instead through the
alleged perpetrators’ perspective.141 Such analysis can be made using either a
positive or negative approach.142 Under a positive approach, victims are identified
through “characteristics which [the perpetrators] deem to be particular to a national,
ethnical, racial or religious group.”143 A negative approach identifies the victimized
group as one which the perpetrators recognize as different from their own group
along national, ethnic, racial or religious lines.144 Under the negative approach, “all
individuals thus rejected would, by exclusion, make up a distinct group.”145
The negative approach to defining group membership established by the ICTY
in Jelsic was later rejected by another ICTY Trial Chamber in Stakic. The Stakic
Trial Chamber stated that “[the Genocide Convention] protects national, ethnic,
racial or religious groups. In cases where more than one group is targeted, it is not
appropriate to define the group in general terms, as, for example, “non-Serbs.”146
Although both the ICTR and ICTY have tried to determine group identity for
purposes of assessing coverage under the Genocide Convention, debate continues as
to the proper approach to use in assessing whether a group is protected by the
Physical Elements. The Genocide Convention lists five physical acts that
may constitute genocide if coupled with the requisite intent:
(1) Killing members of the group;
(2) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(3) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring
about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(4) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or
(5) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.147
Kayishema and Ruzindana Judgment, para. 98.
Jelisic Trial Chamber, para. 70.
Id. para. 71.
Prosecutor v. Stakic, Case No. IT-97-24-T, ICTY Trial Chamber II Judgment (Jul. 31,
2003) [ hereinafter “Stakic Judgment”], para. 512, available at
Genocide Convention art. 2.
The commission of any one of these physical acts is sufficient for a person to be
found guilty of committing genocide, provided that the requisite mental element is
also present. Jurisprudence concerning each of these acts will be discussed
Killing Members of a Group. In Akayesu, the ICTR identified three
elements for determining whether the accused could be punished in accordance with
the Genocide Convention for “killing members of a group.” These elements are:
(1) the victim is dead;
(2) the death resulted from an unlawful act or omission of the accused or a
(3) at the time of the killing the accused or a subordinate had the intention to kill
or inflict grievous bodily harm on the deceased.148
The third element listed by the Akayesu Trial Chamber was the most contentious
because it required the Chamber to determine when a killing constituted a prohibited
murder under the Genocide Convention. The Trial Chamber looked at both the
English and French language texts of the Genocide Convention to determine the
precise scope of this prohibition. The Chamber concluded that the English language
text’s use of the word “killing” was too general, as it could potentially apply to acts
that the Convention drafters did not intend to be covered under the Genocide
Convention, such as unintentional homicides.149 Therefore, the Chamber looked to
the official French language version of the Genocide Convention, which uses the
word “meurtre,” meaning intentional killing.150 Relying on the French language text
of the Genocide Convention, the ICTR concluded that the Convention’s provisions
relating to “killing members of the [protected] group” were intended to cover only
Causing Serious Bodily or Mental Harm to Members of the Group.
Over the years, the ICTY and ICTR have tried to identify actions constituting
“serious bodily or mental harm” under the Genocide Convention. The Akayesu Trial
Chamber stated that “serious bodily or mental harm, without limiting itself thereto,
. . . [means] acts of torture, be they bodily or mental, inhumane or degrading
treatment, [or] persecution.”152 However, the Akayesu Trial Chamber stated that
serious bodily or mental harm “does not necessarily mean that the harm is permanent
and irremediable.”153 With respect to mental harm, this understanding appears to
diverge from the U.S. statute criminalizing genocide, which covers only “the
Akayesu Judgment, para. 589.
Id. para. 500.
Id. para. 501.
Id. para. 500.
Id. para. 504.
Id. para. 502.
permanent impairment of the mental faculties of members of the group through
drugs, torture, or similar techniques.”154
In Karadzic and Mladic, the ICTY Trial Chamber stated that torture and
inhumane or degrading treatment causes serious bodily or mental harm and therefore
could be considered genocidal acts if the requisite mental element was fulfilled.155
In the ICTR decision in Kayeshema and Ruzindana, the Trial Chamber said that this
element “could be construed to mean harm that seriously injures the health, causes
disfigurement or causes any serious injury to the external, internal organs or
The Kayeshema and Ruzindana Trial Chamber stated that the meaning of “the
phrase serious bodily and mental harm should be determined on a case-by-case basis,
using a common sense approach.”157 It also concurred with the Akayesu Chamber’s
inclusion of rape and sexual violence as causes of both serious bodily and mental
harm.158 In explaining this decision, the Akayesu Trial Chamber had stated that acts
of rape “resulted in the physical and psychological destruction of Tutsi women, their
families, and their communities. Sexual violence was an integral part of the process
of destruction, specifically contributing to the destruction of targeted Tutsi women
and to the destruction of the Tutsi group as a whole.”159
Deliberately Inflicting on the Group Conditions of Life Calculated
to Bring about Its Physical Destruction in Whole or in Part. The text of
the Genocide Convention does not provide clear guidance as to what actions
constitute deliberate infliction upon a group of conditions likely to bring about its
physical destruction in whole or in part. However, the Akayesu Chamber
distinguished this element from more direct methods of destroying a group of people
which were clearly enumerated under the Convention, such as directly killing group
members. The Akayesu Chamber explained that “methods of destruction by which
the perpetrator does not immediately kill the members of the group, but which,
ultimately, seek their physical destruction” are covered by the Genocide
Convention’s prohibition against the creation of conditions of life calculated to bring
about the physical destruction of a group in whole or in part.160 This would include,
inter alia, “subjecting a group of people to a subsistence diet, systematic expulsion
from homes and the reduction of essential medical services below minimum
18 U.S.C. § 1091(a)(3) (ital. added).
See Karadzic and Mladic, para. 93. See also SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 160-1.
Kayishema and Ruzindana Judgment, para 109. See also SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 160.
Kayishema and Ruzindana Judgment, para. 108.
Id. See also Akayesu Judgment, para. 731; SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 164.
Akayesu Judgment, para. 731.
Akayesu Judgment, para. 505.
Id. para. 506.
The ICTR Trial Chamber has approvingly cited an explanation included within
a draft of the Genocide Convention, defining the deliberate infliction of conditions
calculated to bring about group destruction as including “circumstances which will
lead to a slow death, for example, lack of proper housing, clothing, hygiene, medical
care or excessive work or physical exertion.”162 The Chamber has also found that in
some circumstances “rape, the starving of a group of people, reducing required
medical services below a minimum, and withholding sufficient living
accommodation for a reasonable period ... [c]ould lead to the destruction of the group
in whole or in part.”163
Some commentators have suggested that the Convention’s use of the word
“deliberately” with respect to the imposition of life-threatening conditions indicates
a requirement that the imposition of such conditions is premeditated.164 The word
“calculated” also connotes an additional consideration, and might suggest that the
imposition of life-threatening conditions must be the perpetrator’s principal method
of destroying the group in whole or in part, and not merely the incidental result of
other destructive acts.165
Imposing Measures Intended to Prevent Births within the Group.
This provision of the Genocide Convention was originally meant to apply to acts
such as compulsory sterilization and abortion intended to prevent a group from
adding new members.166 In recent years, international jurisprudence interpreted this
provision more broadly. The Akayesu Trial Chamber considered “sexual mutilation,
. . . forced birth control, separation of the sexes and prohibition of marriages” as
genocidal actions intended to prevent births within the Tutsi group.167 The Chamber
stated that the forced impregnation of a victimized group member could also
constitute a genocidal act if “during rape, a woman of the said group is deliberately
impregnated by a man of another group, with the intent to have her give birth to a
child who will consequently not belong to its mother’s group.”168 The Chamber
noted that such actions pose a particular threat in “patriarchal societies where
membership of a group is determined by the identity of the father.”169 In addition, the
Chamber concluded that the mental harm of rape without impregnation could also
fall under this category if “the person raped refuses subsequently to procreate, in the
Kayishema and Ruzindana Judgment, para. 115. See also NEHEMIAH ROBINSON, THE
GENOCIDE CONVENTION: A COMMENTARY 123 (1960).
Kayishema and Ruzindana Judgment, para. 116. See also SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 167.
See SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 167.
Id. at 243-4.
BOOT, supra note 16, at 449; SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 172-73.
Akayesu Judgment, para. 507.
same way that members of a group can be led, through threats or trauma, not to
It is unclear whether actions taken to prevent births within a group must succeed
in order to constitute an offense under the Genocide Convention.171 However, for
such actions to constitute genocide, it must be proven that the perpetrator intended
to prevent births and destroy the group through these measures.172
Forcibly Transferring Children of the Group to Another Group.
Although transferring children from one group to another group threatens the affected
group’s ability to continue its traditions and way of life, cultural destruction is not
covered by the Genocide Convention. However, the transferring of children could
amount to biological genocide, since the taking and potential killing of children
would destroy the group’s newest generation of members. In Akayesu, this offense
was interpreted to cover not only “direct act[s] of forcible physical transfer, but also
. . . acts of threats or trauma which would lead to the forcible transfer of children
from one group to another.”173 The Kayishema and Ruzindana Chamber of the
ICTR subsequently agreed with this interpretation.174
With respect to this action’s mental requirement, the perpetrator must
specifically intend to forcibly transfer children for this action to constitute
genocide.175 In addition, it appears that the perpetrator must know that the children
are members of a victim group and are being transferred to a different group.176
Background. Recent debates over the situation in Darfur, Sudan have
included whether the inhumane acts in question constituted genocide or ethnic
cleansing. Therefore, in deciding whether genocide is occurring, it is important to
understand how ethnic cleansing is defined and how it differs from genocide. Unlike
genocide, “there is no generally recognized text defining ethnic cleansing,”177 a term
which gained recognition during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. However, it
has been widely accepted that ethnic cleansing “is aimed at displacing a population
in order to change the ethnic composition of a given territory, and generally to render
Id. para. 508.
SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 173. The United States suggested in the drafting of the Rome
Statute’s section on genocide that the prosecution must establish that “measures imposed
[by the offender] had the effect of preventing births within that group.” Id., quoting U.N.
Doc. PCNICC/1988/DP.4, p. 8.
Genocide Convention art. 2(d); SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 244.
Akayesu Judgment, para. 509.
Kayishema and Ruzindana Judgment, para. 118.
SCHABAS, supra note 50, at 245.
Id. at 199.
the territory ethnically homogeneous or ‘pure.’”178 Although genocide and ethnic
cleansing “may share the same goal . . . to eliminate the persecuted group from a
given area,” differences exist in the respective perpetrators’ intent.179 Genocide
requires the intent to destroy the group, whereas ethnic cleansing requires only the
intent to displace it.180 Ethnic cleansing is not listed under the Genocide Convention
as an act of genocide, though some warn that it could presage genocidal acts, since
genocide may become “the last resort of the frustrated ethnic cleanser.”181
Regardless, the forced “deportation” or transfer of populations is recognized by
various tribunals as both a crime against humanity and (depending upon the
circumstances) a war crime.182 It is important to note that deportation and forcible
transfer of populations are distinct, though overlapping, concepts. A number of
ICTY decisions define deportation as “the forced displacement of persons by
expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present,
across a national border, without lawful grounds.183 In contrast, forcible transfer has
been described as “a forced removal or displacement of people from one area to
another which take may place within the same national borders.”184
For purposes of this report, ethnic cleansing will only be discussed in relation
to crimes against humanity. The term “crime against humanity” was first used in the
London Charter creating the Nuremberg Tribunal.185 The term was later defined
more specifically in the Rome Statute. Article 7 of the Rome Statute lists both
deportation and the forcible transfer of a population as crimes against humanity
“when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any
civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.”186 Although the Statutes
Id. at 200.
SHABAS, supra note 50, at 200.
Id. at 201.
See Rome Statute art. 7(1); Yugoslavia Statute art. 5(d); Rwanda Statute art. 3(d). See
also BOOT, supra note 16, at 446-9.
Milosevic Trial Chamber, para. 45. See Prosecutor v. Simic, Case No. IT-95-9-T, ICTY
Trial Chamber I Judgment (Oct. 17, 2003) [hereinafter “Simic Judgment”], para. 122,
available at [http://www.un.org/icty/simic/trialc3/judgement/index1.htm]; see also
Prosecutor v. Nalatelic and Martinovic, Case No. IT-98-34-T, ICTY Trial Chamber I
Judgment (Mar. 31, 2003) [hereinafter “Nalatelic and Martinovic”], para. 670, available at
[http://www.un.org/icty/naletilic/trialc/judgement/index.htm]; Prosecutor v. Krnojelac, Case
No. IT-97-25-T, ICTY Trial Chamber II Judgment (Mar. 15, 2002) [hereinafter “Krnojelac
Trial Chamber”], para. 476, available at
[http://www.un.org/icty/krnojelac/trialc2/judgement/index.htm]; Krstic Trial Chamber,
paras. 521, 531-532.
Milosevic Trial Chamber, para. 45. See Simic Judgment , para. 122; see also Krnojelac
Trial Chamber, paras. 474, 476; Krstic Trial Chamber, para. 521.
CRS Report RL31437, International Criminal Court: Overview and Selected Legal
Issues, at 14.
Rome Statute art. 7(1).
establishing the ICTY and ICTR list deportation as a crime against humanity,187
neither Statute lists forcible transfer as a crime against humanity. However, the
ICTY has concluded that its statutory authority to adjudicate “other inhumane acts”
not expressly listed as crimes against humanity provides the Tribunal with authority
to hear cases concerning forcible transfers. 188 Indeed, the ICTY has heard several
cases dealing with the deportation and forcible transfer of groups in the former
Legal Elements of Ethnic Cleansing. In assessing whether deportation
or forcible transfer occurred, the ICTY has considered three elements:
(1) Whether the transfer was across borders;
(2) Whether movement was involuntary; and
(3) The intent of the perpetrator.190
With respect to the first element, as previously mentioned, the ICTY has taken the
position that “deportation requires the displacement of persons across a national
border, to be distinguished from forcible transfer, which takes place within national
boundaries.”191 The one exception to this approach occurred in the Stakic case,
where the ICTY Trial Chamber held that forced displacement over “de facto
boundaries, such as constantly changing frontlines, which are not internationally
recogni[z]ed” also constitutes deportation.192 It does not appear, however, that other
Chambers within the ICTY have taken this approach.
With respect to the second element of ethnic cleansing, that the movement is
involuntary, the Milosevic Trial Chamber of the ICTY recently stated that the
involuntary nature of deportation or forcible transfer depends on whether the persons
transferred had any real choice in the matter.193 It also stated that such an assessment
should be made on a case-by-case basis examining the context of all relevant
circumstances.194 This becomes particularly important in determining whether
transferees’ expressions of consent to movement are authentic. In the Krnojelac
case, the ICTY Appeals Chamber stated that “when analyzing the evidence
concerning [such expressions], it is necessary to put it into context and to take into
account the situation and atmosphere that prevailed ....”195 In the Krnojelac case, the
Yugoslavia Statute art. 5(d); Rwanda Statute art. 3(d).
Milosevic Trial Chamber, para. 41.
BOOT, supra note 16, at 189-90.
Milosevic Trial Chamber, para. 46.
Id. para. 59. See also Krnojelac Trial Chamber, para. 474; Krstic Trial Chamber , para.
Stakic Judgment, para. 679.
Milosevic Trial Chamber, para. 76. See also Nalatelic and Martinovic, para. 519.
Milosevic Trial Chamber, para. 76.
Id. See also Prosecutor v. Krnojelac, Case No. IT-97-25-T, ICTY Appeals Chamber
Trial Chamber had held that evidence of certain detainees’ express desire to be
released and thereafter travel across the border to Montenegro prevented a finding of
involuntary displacement.196 However, the Appeals Chamber disagreed and held that
“the illegal detention [of the victims], the threats, the use of force and other forms
of coercion, the fear of violence and the detainees’ vulnerability” negated a finding
of genuine consent.197
With respect to the third element, deportation and forcible transfer require the
same state of intent from the perpetrator.198 The Milosevic Trial Chamber required
that the perpetrator of the displacement “either directly intended that the victim
would leave or that it was reasonably foreseeable that this would occur as a
consequence of his action.”199
Judgment (Sept. 17, 2003) [hereinafter “Krnojelac Judgment”], available at
[http://www.un.org/icty/krnojelac/appeal/judgement/index.htm], para. 229.
Krnojelac Judgment, para. 227.
Id. para 229.
Milosevic Trial Chamber, para. 78.
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