New Book Clarifies the Modes of Liability for International Crimes

Sculpture realized to illustrate thre UDHR Sculpture realized to illustrate thre UDHR

30 September 2019

[Version française ci-dessous]

Modes of liability and criminal responsibility in general, have been vigorously debated in academia and by legal practitioners for decades.

The most senior political and military figures in any given context are almost invariably not the people ‘pulling the trigger’. As such, questions on criminal responsibility are pertinent. Is a business executive complicit for genocide for trading chemicals with a regime suspected of using chemical weapons against civilians? Can a military commander be criminally liable when he or she did not commit crimes but failed to prevent them? To what extent are political leaders criminally liable for crimes committed by those in the lower echelons of government?

‘The sometimes highly technical questions that arise when a court has to determine how and why an accused may or may not be held liable for the crimes on which it has to adjudicate deserve a systematic and comprehensive study by scholars who have a deep knowledge of the legal challenges that arise in this operation’ explains Robert Roth, one of the Co-editors and former Director of the Geneva Academy

Clarifying the Conditions of Accountability for War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and Genocide

Jurisprudence in the various international criminal law (ICL) tribunals and national courts is inconsistent, both internally and across different tribunals, as illustrated by recent debates surrounding the complex notions of joint criminal enterprise – involving the participation of several individuals in a common criminal plan – or of command responsibility – when a superior is held responsible for international crimes committed by his subordinates and for failing to prevent or punish them. This has left the state of the law unclear, to the detriment of accountability and the ongoing struggle against impunity.

The new book Modes of Liability in International Criminal Law (Cambridge University Press) edited by Jérôme de Hemptinne, Robert Roth and Elies van Sliedregt precisely intends to clarify the conditions of accountability for international crimes.

‘As most domestic jurisdictions are using the same concepts as international tribunals, this book will be extremely useful to prosecutors, judges and attorneys representing accused or victims before national courts’ insists Robert Roth.

‘International criminal law has a crucial role in ensuring the enforcement and credibility of international humanitarian law and human rights, but it can only be effective and fair in practice with clear rules on who is liable for what. We are proud that this book marks an important step towards this important aim’ adds Marco Sassòli, Director of the Geneva Academy.

Under the Auspices of the Geneva Academy

The publication is based on research undertaken under the auspices of the Geneva Academy and was coordinated by Jérôme de Hemptinne (at the time Researcher at the Geneva Academy) and Robert Roth (at the time Director of the Geneva Academy). It is co-edited with Elies van Sliedregt (University of Leeds).

Geneva Academy’ alumni and Former Teaching Assistants, Antonio Coco and Tom Gal, as well as Thomas van Poecke and alumnus of our LLM also contributed to this volume.

Launch Events in The Hague and in Geneva

The book will be launched in the Hague and in Geneva, in the presence of ICL experts and the authors.



Une étude sur la responsabilité pénale pour crimes internationaux

Comment établir juridiquement la responsabilité du commandant qui néglige gravement de surveiller ses troupes ou de celui qui participe à une « entreprise criminelle » durant un conflit armé sans lui-même agir sur le terrain ? Ces questions traversent toute la jurisprudence rendue par les tribunaux pénaux internationaux depuis les procès de Nuremberg et de Tokyo (1946-1948). Elles préoccupent également les tribunaux nationaux appelés à se prononcer sur des crimes de guerre, des crimes contre l’humanité ou une participation à un génocide sur la base de leurs législations nationales.

Edité par les prestigieuses Cambridge University Press, l’ouvrage collectif Modes of Liability in International Criminal Law propose une analyse systématique et approfondie des divers modes de responsabilité admis et appliqués par les juridictions pénales internationales. Il est le fruit d’une recherche menée pour l’essentiel dans le cadre de l’Académie. Deux des trois éditeurs scientifiques ont un lien avec l’Académie: Robert Roth en a été directeur de 2014 à 2018; outre son activité de chercheur, Jérôme de Hemptinne y enseigne depuis plusieurs années. La troisième éditrice scientifique, Elies van Sliedregt, est professeur à l’Université de Leeds.

L’ouvrage fera l’objet d’une présentation et d’une discussion en présence des trois co-éditeurs scientifiques et de la professeure Poala Gaeta le 29 octobre à 18 h 30 à la Villa Moynier, siège de l’Académie.


Destroyed buildings during the 2008 South Ossetia Conflict News

LLM Students Plead Online on the 2008 South Ossetian Conflict

18 May 2020

In the framework of our LLM and the course on IHL given by our Director Professor Marco Sassòli, students pleaded online on 17 May for Russia and Georgia arguing that the side they represent has respected IHL while the adverse side has violated IHL.

Read more


2019 Annual Report

11 May 2020

Knowledge transfer is at the heart of our activities. During 2019, our professors, researchers and staff have ensured such transfer in international humanitarian law, human rights and transitional justice via research, our three masters, training courses, events and the Geneva Human Rights Platform.

Read more

Logo of the Atlas Network Event

Women's perspectives on a career in international law

15 July 2020, 13:00-14:15

In this online event co-organized with the ATLAS Network, prominent women in international law will share their experience and advice through an interactive discussion.

Read more

Nepal,  Bardia district, Gulariya. Families of missing persons mark the 29th International Day of the Disappeared. Short Course

Human Rights and Transitional Justice

Fall 2020

This online course aims at unpacking the nature and scope of international human rights law in transitional contexts.

Read more

Egypt, Cairo, 2011: Makeshift barricade outside interior ministry gate. Short Course

The Right to Life and the Right of Peaceful Assembly in Transitions

Fall 2020

This online course will examine the protection afforded by international human rights law in these contexts, with a specific focus on the right to peaceful assembly – which is at the heart of such movements –, and the right to life – which is often violated during such transitional moments.

Read more

ICC Trial Chamber VIII declares Mr Al Mahdi guilty of the war crime of attacking historic and religious buildings in Timbuktu and sentences him to nine years’ imprisonment Project

Modes of Liability for International Crimes

Completed in January 2015

This project intends to clarify the conditions of accountability for international crimes by providing a detailed assessment of the customary international law status of, in particular, the actus reus and mens rea elements of modes of liability: planning, instigating, conspiracy, direct and indirect perpetration, co-perpetration, the three forms of joint criminal enterprise, the doctrine of common purpose under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, command responsibility and aiding and abetting.

Read more

Séléka rebels patrol in the town of Bria, Central African Republic (CAR). Project

Human Rights Responsibilities and Armed Non-State Actors

Started in June 2018

This research aims at building a common understanding and vision as to how states and the relevant parts of the UN system can provide a concrete and practical framework to address human rights responsibilities of armed non-state actors.

Read more

Cover page of the Annual Report 2019 Publication

Annual Report 2019

published on May 2020

Read more

Cover of the publication Publication

From Words to Deeds: A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretations of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms

published on December 2019

Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard, Ezequiel Heffes

Read more