State-Enabled Crimes

47 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2015 Last revised: 20 Jun 2017

See all articles by Rebecca J. Hamilton

Rebecca J. Hamilton

American University - Washington College of Law; Fulbright Scholar Program

Date Written: August 1, 2016


International crimes are committed by individuals, but many – from genocide in Rwanda to torture at Abu Ghraib – would not have occurred without the integral role played by the State. This dual contribution, of individual and State, is intrinsic to the commission of what I term “State-Enabled Crimes.” Viewing international adjudication through the rubric of State-Enabled Crimes highlights a feature of the international judicial architecture that is typically taken for granted: its bifurcated structure. Notwithstanding the deep interrelationship between individual and State in the commission of State-Enabled Crimes, the international legal system adjudicates the responsibility of each under two entirely separate structures. One side of the system deals with State responsibility, the other deals with individual criminal responsibility, and the latter is overwhelmingly dominant. The result is that a handful of individuals are punished as the State policies and practices that enabled them are left untouched, virtually assuring the perpetuation of such crimes by other individuals in the future.

This Article calls for a move from a bifurcated to an integrated response, in which the existing (but under-utilized) law of State responsibility would be incorporated into criminal proceedings against individuals accused of State-Enabled Crimes. An integrated response is normatively desirable. It will more accurately reflect the way these crimes are committed, generating a fairer allocation of responsibility between individual and State. It will also better satisfy standard justifications for the adjudication of inter-national crimes than assessing individual and State responsibility in isolation. Finally, it is feasible in practice, and I offer one mechanism through which it could be implemented.

Keywords: crime, international criminal law, state responsibility, international courts, genocide, crimes against humanity

JEL Classification: K33, K14

Suggested Citation

Hamilton, Rebecca J., State-Enabled Crimes (August 1, 2016). 41(2) Yale Journal of International Law, 302 (2016). , American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2017-14, Available at SSRN:

Rebecca J. Hamilton (Contact Author)

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

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Washington, DC 20016
United States

Fulbright Scholar Program ( email )

IIE/CIES - 1400 K Street, NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20005
United States

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