What Does ‘Intent to Destroy’ in Genocide Mean?

International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 91, pp. 833-858, 2009

26 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2010 Last revised: 30 Jun 2011

See all articles by Kai Ambos

Kai Ambos

University of Goettingen (Gottingen)

Date Written: December 1, 2009


Genocide is a crime with a double mental element, i.e. a general intent as to the underlying acts, and an ulterior intent with regard to the ultimate aim of the destruction of the group. The prevailing view in the case-law interprets the respective ‘intent to destroy’ requirement as a special or specific intent (dolus specialis) stressing its volitional or purpose-based tendency. While this view has been followed for a long time in legal doctrine without further ado, it has recently been challenged by knowledge- and structure-based approaches, which have not received sufficient attention. A historical, literal, systematic and teleological interpretation of the ‘intent to destroy’ requirement, taking into account the particular structure of the genocide offence and the meaning of ‘intent’ in comparative law, reveals that the traditional view can no longer be maintained. It should be replaced by a combined structure- and knowledge-based approach that distinguishes according to the status and role of the (low-, mid- and top-level) perpetrators. Thus, the purpose-based intent should be upheld only with regard to the top- and mid-level perpetrators, whereas for the lowlevel perpetrators knowledge of the genocidal context should suffice. Lastly, this new approach requires a fresh look at the ‘intent to destroy’ requirement in cases of participation in genocide.

Suggested Citation

Ambos, Kai, What Does ‘Intent to Destroy’ in Genocide Mean? (December 1, 2009). International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 91, pp. 833-858, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1618682 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1618682

Kai Ambos (Contact Author)

University of Goettingen (Gottingen) ( email )

Platz der Göttinger Sieben 5
Göttingen, 37073

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