What is an International Crime?

The Oxford Handbook of International Criminal Law

28 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2021

Date Written: January 26, 2021


This chapter defends a pluralist account of International Criminal Law (ICL). In contrast to other approaches to defining international crimes, I argue, as both a descriptive and a normative matter, that there is no hard and fast distinction between international of­ fences and so-called ‘ordinary’ offences. Instead, there exists a continuum of regulation in which international law asserts varying degrees of non-exhaustive force over the criminal law. This pluralism derives principally from the normative underpinnings of ICL that, I ar­ gue, is concerned less with the prosecution of offences that are uniquely international in some qualitative sense than with protecting universal human values through a division of labour between international and domestic institutions. I develop this account through consideration of the historical evolution of ICL, the difficulties associated with competing positive law explanations of international crime, and the diversity of institutional respons­ es that make of use of ICL.

Keywords: International criminal law, international crimes, international human rights, pluralism, prosecution, preventive action

Suggested Citation

Greenawalt, Alexander K. A., What is an International Crime? (January 26, 2021). The Oxford Handbook of International Criminal Law, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3773734

Alexander K. A. Greenawalt (Contact Author)

Pace University Elisabeth Haub School of Law ( email )

78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603
United States
914-422-4092 (Phone)
914-422-4168 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.pace.edu/faculty/alexander-k-greenawalt

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