‘We Demand Dignity for the Victims’ – Reflections on the Legal Qualification of the Indecent Disposal of Corpses

in International Criminal Law Review
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‘We demand dignity for the victims’. Such was the pledge of the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs following the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight mh17 in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine and the looting of the corpses of the 298 victims. Although not an isolated instance, the indecent disposal of the corpses of the victims seems to have escaped legal scrutiny. Drawing from this and other case studies, this article addresses the legal qualification of acts of mistreatment perpetrated against the corpses of victims of international crimes. It analyses all relevant dispositions pertaining to international humanitarian law, international criminal law and the law of trafficking in human beings. While these provisions fail to legally characterize such acts, the judiciary however tends to recognize their criminality; a recognition which, in the authors’ views, could make its way into the text of international (criminal) law.




Rosenblatt, supra note 5, p. 926.


Petrig, supra note 11, p. 351.


Palermo Protocol, supra note 95, Art. 3. It may be noted that, although he recognizes the non-exhaustive nature of this element, Allain maintains that the current confines of exploitation in the law of human trafficking are those enumerated offenses. Jean Allain, Slavery in International Law: Of Human Exploitation and Trafficking (Martinus Nijhoff, Leiden, 2013), pp. 2–3.


Gallagher, supra note 101, p. 42. See also Alan Wertheimer, Exploitation (2nd edn., Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1999), p. 7: he defines an ‘exploitative transaction’ as ‘one in which A takes unfair advantage of B. A engages in harmful exploitation when A gains by an action or transaction that is harmful to B where we define harm in relation to some appropriate baseline’ (emphasis in original). For another perspective, see Johannes Koettl, ‘Human Trafficking, Modern-Day Slavery, and Economic Exploitation’, sp Discussion Paper No. 0911 (May 2009), , 11 March 2015, pp. 6–7.


Thorpe, supra note 129.


Marty Report, supra note 122, p. 2, para. 8.


Statement by Frans Timmermans, supra note 1.


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