The Elephant in the Room: The Uneasy Task of Defining ‘Racial’ in International Criminal Law

In: International Criminal Law Review

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court contains the term ‘racial’ in its provisions on the crime of genocide, persecution and apartheid. However, it fails to provide for a definition of this historically burdened term. International criminal law is guided by the principle of legality and legal norms should be as narrowly defined as possible. This article will therefore attempt to provide a contemporary legal definition of ‘racial’. The article contains an overview of the historical development, the treatment of the issue of ‘race’ by anthropology and human rights, before turning to international criminal law. Cases dealt with by the ictr and the icty on ‘racial groups’ with regard to the crime of genocide will be analysed and categorised. The article concludes with a suggestion to juxtapose racial groups with ethnical groups, based on the perception of the perpetrator or the self-perception of the victims (subjective approach).

  • 2

    Schabasibid. pp. 122–123.

  • 6

    Unesco Statement of Race 1967supra note 1 p. 53.

  • 8

    Hylland Eriksensupra note 1 p. 6; Peter Wade Race Nature and Culture (Pluto Press London 2002) p. 2; Jean Hiernaux ‘Biological Aspects of the Racial Question’ in: unescoFour Statements on the Race Question (1969) pp. 12 14.

  • 9

    Schabassupra note 1 p. 129.

  • 10

    Hiernauxsupra note 8 p. 9.

  • 11

    Schmölzersupra note 1 p. 50.

  • 14

    Schmölzersupra note 1 p. 50.

  • 15

    Nystuensupra note 4 p. 119; Loïc Wacquant ‘For an Analytic of Racial Domination’ 11 Political Power and Social Theory (1997) pp. 223 231.

  • 16

    Davissupra note 1 p. 7.

  • 24

    Nystuensupra note 15 p. 118.

  • 28

    Thornberrysupra note 25 pp. 160–161.

  • 31

    Thornberrysupra note 25 p. 160.

  • 35

    Quoted by Bantonsupra note 17 p. 20

  • 36

    Hylland Eriksensupra note 1 p. 6.

  • 38

    Wadesupra note 8 p. 3.

  • 39

    Hylland Eriksensupra note 1 pp. 5 7 15–16.

  • 40

    Cashmoresupra note 7 p. 143.

  • 42

    Wadesupra note 8 p. 19. Wacquant asserts that any racial situation structure or event can be broken down into a complex and dynamic set of five elementary forms of racial domination. These building blocks are: categorisation discrimination segregation ghettoisation and racial violence (Wacquant supra note 15 p. 230).

  • 44

    Darfur Reportsupra note 34 p. 125 at para. 494.

  • 45

    Byronsupra note 27 p. 231.

  • 48

    (A/C.6/sr.74) p. 99. Agnieszka Szpak ‘National Ethnic Racial and Religious Groups Protected against Genocide in the Jurisprudence of the Ad Hoc International Criminal Tribunals’ 23 European Journal on International Law (2012) p. 159. Others point to the cohesiveness homogeneity and involuntariness of the membership to the group (Matthew Lippman ‘Genocide’ in M. Cherif Bassiouni (ed.) International Criminal Law (3rd ed. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers Leiden 1999).

  • 49

    Szpaksupra note 48 p. 159; Ntanda Nsereko supra note 47 p. 130.

  • 53

    Schabasibid. pp. 130–131.

  • 54

    Verhoevensupra note 50 p. 23.

  • 55

    Tams et al.supra note 43 p. 102.

  • 57

    Szpaksupra note 48 pp. 162–163; Nersessian supra note 51 p. 307; Fronza supra note 56 p. 133. Verdirame rightfully points out that the consequences of this distinction are not only of theoretical but also of practical importance: if solely objective criteria would apply then during the Holocaust only Jews according to the halachic rules would be considered protected victims. Persons who were killed because they were considered Jewish under the Nuremberg laws would not be protected victims of a genocide (see: Guglielmo Verdirame ‘The Genocide Definition in the Jurisprudence of the Ad Hoc Tribunals’ 49 International and Comparative Law Quarterly (July 2000) 589).

  • 58

    Tams et al.supra note 43 p. 103.

  • 60

    Schabasibid. p. 126.

  • 64

    Nersessiansupra note 51 p. 300.

  • 65

    Werlesupra note 25 p. 197.

  • 66

    Ntanda Nserekosupra note 47 p. 130.

  • 69

    Lippmannsupra note 48 p. 412.

  • 71

    Verdiramesupra note 57 pp. 589–591.

  • 72

    Fronzasupra note 56 p. 133.

  • 73

    Tam et al.supra note 43 p. 103; Schabas supra note 1 p. 125; Werle supra note 25 p. 196; Verdirame supra note 57 p. 589.

  • 74

    Fronzasupra note 56 p. 132.

  • 75

    Darfur Reportsupra note 34 para. 509; William Schabas An Introduction to the International Criminal Court (4th ed. Cambridge University Press Cambridge 2011) p. 105.

  • 77

    Lüderssupra note 70 p. 53.

  • 83

    Verdirameibid. p. 591.

  • 86

    Verdiramesupra note 57 pp. 592 and 594.

  • 88

    Quigleysupra note 80 p. 150. This fact is of particular importance with regard to the Akayesu judgment where the Tutsis did not match any of the four protected groups forcing the Court to resort to a protection of any stable and permanent group (Verdirame supra note 57 p. 592).

  • 93

    Verdiramesupra note 57 with reference to Benedict Anderson Imagined Communities (2006). Nersessian considers the Kayishema case as an objective approach because the ictr focused on objective determination of the group status rather than linking it to the perpetrator’s perception (see Nersessian supra note 51 p. 308). However the later reference in Jelisic to the Kayishema case shows that latter was understood by the icty as a subjective approach (The Prosecutor v. Jelisic Case No. it-95-10-A Trial Judgment (14 December 1999) para. 70 footnote 95).

  • 96

    Lüderssupra note 70 p. 57.

  • 110

    Szpaksupra note 48 p. 169.

  • 112

    Szpaksupra note 48 p. 169.

  • 114

    Darfur Reportsupra note 34 p. 129 para. 509.

  • 116

    Darfur Reportsupra note 34 p. 129 para. 511.

  • 117

    Lüderssupra note 70 p. 55.

  • 118

    Howardsupra note 1 p.10.

  • 120

    Nersessiansupra note 51 p. 313.

  • 121

    Schabassupra note 1 p. 128.

  • 122

    Nersessiansupra note 51 p. 312.

  • 123

    Szpaksupra note 48 p. 164; Nersessian supra note 51 p. 313.

  • 124

    Lüderssupra note 70 pp. 54 and 60. Lüders declares the criteria of a ‘stable group’ as irreconcilable with the prohibition of analogy since it would introduce an additional element to the actus reus of the crime of genocide (ibid. p. 284).

  • 125

    Verdiramesupra note 57 p. 594.

  • 126

    Verhoevensupra note 50 p. 21. Atheistic or agnostic views are considered challenging in the context of a ‘religious group’ see e.g. Tams Berster Schiffbauer supra note 43 p. 113; or Werle supra note 25 p. 198.

  • 128

    Szpaksupra note 48 p. 164.

  • 130

    Nersessiansupra note 51 p. 311.

  • 132

    Hallsupra note 23 p. 229.

  • 133

    Werlesupra note 25 p. 264.

  • 134

    Ntanda Nserekosupra note 47 p. 131. Byron suggests taking the two concepts of racial and ethnic groups together to cover relevant cases see Byron supra note 27 p. 231.

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