Overdetermined Atrocities

Journal of International Criminal Justice (peer reviewed) (in symposium) 39 pages

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This paper offers the first detailed account of causation in international criminal law. In particular, it deals with the problem of causal overdetermination, arguing that it represents the central moral problem in international criminal justice. An event is over-determined if there are multiple sufficient causes for its occurrence. A firing squad is a classic illustration. If eight soldiers are convened to execute a prisoner, they can all walk away afterwards in the moral comfort that “I didn’t really make a difference; it would have happened without me.” The difficulty is, if we are only responsible for making a difference to harm occurring in the world, none of the soldiers are responsible for the death—none made, either directly or through others, an essential contribution to the murder. The paper uses examples from international criminal justice to illustrate the problem, namely, the responsibility of Allied Pilots for the firebombing of Dresden, corporations in Apartheid South Africa, the notorious arms vendor Viktor Bout and Thomas Lubanga, the first indictee before the International Criminal Court. The article forms part of a symposium in honor of Antonio Cassese, and was cited by the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Charles Taylor judgment.

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