Research Handbook on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law
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Research Handbook on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

Edited by Robert Kolb and Gloria Gaggioli

This fascinating Handbook explores the interplay between international human rights law and international humanitarian law, offering expert analysis on the increasingly complex issues surrounding their application in conflict areas across the world.
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Chapter 28: Human rights in the context of international criminal law: respecting them and ensuring respect for them

Damien Scalia


In the context of the present chapter, international criminal law, working as a means of implementation of international human rights law, is of particular importance. The motivation of the international community was first to judge those who were responsible for violating international humanitarian law (initially through the condemnation of war crimes) and then developed to a certain extent to the judgement of those responsible for grave violations of human rights. In fact, crimes that are categorized under the title of ‘crimes against humanity’ in international criminal law essentially correspond to grave violations of human rights. The links between international criminal law and human rights law are complex, as becomes evident in view of the number of questions raised in this chapter: Are human rights (including the rights of the accused) respected in international criminal law? Are they a source of law for the international criminal courts? What influence do human rights have on international criminal law? Furthermore, to paraphrase the title of the well-known work written on the relationship between human rights law and criminal law: are they the shield or the sword of international criminal law? This chapter does not pretend to give a full oversight of all the links that unify these two branches of international law. The purpose of human rights law is to protect individuals when they are confronted by a superior power (legitimate or not), be it the State, the judicial system or the prison system, etc.

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