The Interpretation of Slavery before the International Criminal Court: Reconciling Legal Borders?

In: Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law Online
Sara Palacios-ArapilesESRC Doctoral Researcher, School of Law, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

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This article examines the interpretation of the definition of slavery/ enslavement by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Ongwen case (2021) and its application to the facts of the case at hand. This examination is warranted because Ongwen represents the first case in which the ICC was tasked with deciding whether the crime of enslavement had been committed. This article illustrates that the ICC has been outward-looking, finding that judgments of other courts largely featured in the reasoning of the ICC when interpreting slavery. The detailed study in this article further reveals that, either directly or indirectly, the ICC more specifically drew on the judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Kunarac case. The article shows that, in doing so, the ICC reconciled legal borders by incorporating in its decision elements of general international law, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law instruments to inform its understanding of slavery/enslavement. The article highlights that the ICC contributed to norm consolidation globally.

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