Schreibtischtäter as Superiors and Commanders

Amsterdam Law School Research Paper No. 2021-10

Amsterdam Center for International Law No. 2021-03

19 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2021

Date Written: March 29, 2021

Abstract

The term Schreibtischtäter has gained currency after Hannah Arendt depicted Adolf Eichmann as a classic example. The Schreibtischtäter organizes the commission of atrocities from behind his desk. He gives directions to executioners who perform the dirty work.
The central question of this essay is whether the doctrine of superior responsibility can be applied to sustain the criminal responsibility of Schreibtischtäter. At first blush one is inclined to assume that the doctrine of superior responsibility cannot be reconciled with the phenomenon of the Schreibtischtäter. The latter connotes a far more active involvement in crimes, while the civilian superior is merely faulted for having failed to prevent or repress the commission of international crimes by subordinates. On closer scrutiny, however, it transpires that the doctrine of superior responsibility can serve useful purposes as a fall back option. Those (civilian) leaders that claim that their directives have been misunderstood and that they were not apprised of crimes committed by their subordinates, will be countered that issuing clear orders and directives is the gist of their function and responsibility as a superior. Lack of concrete knowledge – apart from being incredible – is no excuse, if they have shut their eyes to the obvious.

Keywords: International criminal law, superior responsibility, Rome Statute, International Criminal Court, Eichmann, schreibtishtӓter

JEL Classification: K14, K33

Suggested Citation

van der Wilt, Harmen G., Schreibtischtäter as Superiors and Commanders (March 29, 2021). Amsterdam Law School Research Paper No. 2021-10, Amsterdam Center for International Law No. 2021-03, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3814752

Harmen G. Van der Wilt (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam - Faculty of Law ( email )

Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands

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