Rule 152. Commanders and other superiors are criminally responsible for war crimes committed pursuant to their orders.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
The rule that persons are responsible for war crimes committed pursuant to their orders is contained in the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property and its Second Protocol, which require States to prosecute not only persons who commit grave breaches or breaches respectively but also persons who order their commission.[1] The Statutes of the International Criminal Court, of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and UNTAET Regulation No. 2000/15 for East Timor, all of which apply in both international and non-international armed conflicts, also contain this rule.[2]
Many military manuals provide that commanders and other superiors are responsible for war crimes committed pursuant to their orders.[3] This rule is also set forth in the legislation of many States.[4] There is national case-law dating from the First World War to the present day which confirms the rule that commanders are responsible for the war crimes committed pursuant to their orders.[5] Further practice is contained in official statements.[6]
The UN Security Council, UN General Assembly, UN Secretary-General and UN Commissions of Experts Established pursuant to Security Council Resolutions 780 (1992) and 935 (1994) have recalled this rule.[7]
This rule has been reaffirmed in various cases before the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda.[8]
While some practice refers specifically to orders issued by commanders,[9] or superiors,[10] other practice refers more generally to orders issued by any person.[11] International case-law has held, however, that while no formal superior-subordinate relationship is required, “ordering” implies at least that a superior-subordinate relationship exists de facto.[12]
With respect to the actions undertaken by subordinates in accordance with an order to commit war crimes, three situations must be distinguished. First, in case the war crimes are actually committed, State practice is clear that there is command responsibility, as stated in this rule. Secondly, when the war crimes are not actually committed but only attempted, State practice tends to indicate that there is also command responsibility. The Statute of the International Criminal Court and UNTAET Regulation No. 2000/15 for East Timor specify that there is command responsibility for ordering the commission of a war crime when the crime in fact occurs or is attempted.[13] Some national legislation specifies that a commander who gives an order to commit a crime is guilty, even if the subordinate only attempts to carry out the crime.[14] Thirdly, in case the war crimes are neither carried out nor attempted, a few States do attribute criminal responsibility to a commander merely ordering the commission of a war crime.[15] But most practice indicates no command responsibility in such cases. It is clear, however, that if a rule consists of a prohibition on giving an order, for example, the prohibition on ordering that there be no survivors (see Rule 46), then the commander who gives the order is guilty, even if the order is not carried out.
[1] First Geneva Convention, Article 49 (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 43, § 457); Second Geneva Convention, Article 50 (ibid., § 457); Third Geneva Convention, Article 129 (ibid., § 457); Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 146 (ibid., § 457); Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property, Article 28 (ibid., § 458); Second Protocol to the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property, Article 15 (ibid., § 461).
[2] ICC Statute, Article 25(3) (ibid., § 460); ICTY Statute, Article 7(1) (ibid., § 467); ICTR Statute, Article 6(1) (ibid., § 468); Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Article 6 (ibid., § 463); UNTAET Regulation No. 2000/15, Section 14(3) (ibid., § 472).
[3] See, e.g., the military manuals Argentina (ibid., § 473), Australia (ibid., § 474), Belgium (ibid., § 475), Cameroon (ibid., § 476), Canada (ibid., §§ 477–478), Congo (ibid., § 479), France (ibid., §§ 480–481), Germany (ibid., § 482), Italy (ibid., § 483), New Zealand (ibid., § 4843), Nigeria (ibid., § 485), South Africa (ibid., § 486), Spain (ibid., § 487), Switzerland (ibid., § 488), United Kingdom (ibid., §§ 489–490), United States (ibid., §§ 491–492) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 493).
[4] See, e.g., the legislation of Argentina (ibid., § 494), Armenia (ibid., § 496), Azerbaijan (ibid. § 497), Bangladesh (ibid., § 498), Belarus (ibid., § 499), Belgium (ibid., §§ 500–501), Cambodia (ibid., § 503), Costa Rica (ibid., § 504), Ethiopia (ibid., § 505), Germany (ibid., §§ 506–507), Iraq (ibid., § 508), Luxembourg (ibid., § 511), Mexico (ibid., § 512), Netherlands (ibid., §§ 513–514), Russian Federation (ibid., § 516), Switzerland (ibid., § 517) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 518); see also the draft legislation of Argentina (ibid., § 495), Burundi (ibid., § 502), Jordan (ibid., § 509), Lebanon (ibid., § 510) and Nicaragua (ibid., § 515).
[5] See, e.g., Argentina, National Court of Appeals, Military Junta case (ibid., § 519); Canada, Military Court at Aurich, Abbaye Ardenne case, Statement by the Judge Advocate (ibid., § 520); Canada, Court Martial Appeal Court, Seward case (ibid., § 521); Croatia, District Court of Zadar, Perišić and Others case (ibid., § 522); Germany, Reichsgericht, Dover Castle case (ibid., § 523); United States, Military Commission at Rome, Dostler case (ibid., § 524); United States, Federal Court of Florida, Ford v. García case (ibid., § 526).
[6] See, e.g., the practice of Slovenia (ibid., § 531), United Kingdom (ibid., §§ 532–533) and United States (ibid., §§ 534–535).
[7] See, e.g., UN Security Council, Res. 670 (ibid., § 536), Res. 771 (ibid., § 537), Res. 780 (ibid., § 538), Res. 794 (ibid., § 539), Res. 808 (ibid., § 540), Res. 820 (ibid., § 541) and Res. 1193 (ibid., § 542); UN Security Council, Statements by the President (ibid., §§ 543–546); UN General Assembly Res. 50/193 (ibid., § 547); UN Secretary-General, Report pursuant to Paragraph 2 of Security Council Resolution 808 (1993) (ibid., § 548); UN Commission of Experts Established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 (1992), Final report (ibid., § 549); UN Commission of Experts Established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 935 (1994), Final report (ibid., § 550).
[8] See, e.g., ICTR, Akayesu case, Judgment (ibid., § 553) and Kayishema and Ruzindana case, Judgment (ibid., § 554); ICTY, Martić case, Review of the Indictment (ibid., § 556), Karadžić and Mladić case, Review of the Indictments (ibid., § 557), Rajić case, Review of the Indictment (ibid., § 558), Delalić case, Judgment (ibid., § 559), Blaškić case, Judgment (ibid., § 560), Kordić and Čerkez case, Judgment (ibid., § 561) and Krstić case, Judgment (ibid., § 562).
[9] See, e.g., the military manuals of Australia (ibid., § 474), Cameroon (ibid., § 476), Congo (ibid., § 479), France (ibid., §§ 480–481), New Zealand (ibid., § 484), Nigeria (ibid., § 485), Switzerland (ibid., § 488), United Kingdom (ibid., § 489) and United States (ibid., § 491); Argentina, National Court of Appeals, Military Junta case (ibid., § 519); United States, Military Commission at Rome, Dostler case (ibid., § 524); United States, Federal Court of Florida, Ford v. García case (ibid., § 526); the practice of the United States (ibid., §§ 534–535); the reported practice of Pakistan (ibid., § 530); ICTY, Delalić case, Judgment (ibid., § 559)
[10] See, e.g., the military manual of Belgium (ibid., § 475), Germany (ibid., § 482) and Switzerland (ibid., § 488); Germany, Reichsgericht, Dover Castle case (ibid., § 523); ICTY, Delalić case, Judgment (ibid., § 559).
[11] See, e.g., First Geneva Convention, Article 49, second paragraph (ibid., § 457); Second Geneva Convention, Article 50, second paragraph (ibid., § 457); Third Geneva Convention, Article 129, second paragraph (ibid., § 457); Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 146, second paragraph (ibid., § 457); Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property, Article 28 (ibid., § 458); ICC Statute, Article 25(3) (ibid., § 460); Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Article 6(1) (ibid., § 463); ICTY Statute, Article 7(1) (ibid., § 467); ICTR Statute, Article 6(1) (ibid., 468); UNTAET Regulation No. 2000/15, Section 14(3) (ibid., § 472); the military manuals of Argentina (ibid., § 473), Canada (ibid., § 477), Italy (ibid., § 483), South Africa (ibid., § 486), Spain (ibid., § 487), United Kingdom (ibid., § 490) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 493); the statement of Slovenia (ibid., § 531); UN Security Council, Res. 670 (ibid., § 536), Res. 771 (ibid., § 537), Res. 780 (ibid., § 538), Res. 794 (ibid., § 539), Res. 808 (ibid., § 540), Res. 820 (ibid., § 541) and Res. 1193 (ibid., § 542).
[12] See, e.g., ICTR, Akayesu case, Judgment ( ibid., § 553) and Kayishema and Ruzindana case, Judgment (ibid., § 554); ICTY, Kordić and Čerkez case, Judgment (ibid., § 561); see also Croatia, District Court of Zadar, Perišić and Others case (“persons who were in a position to issue orders for combat”) (ibid., § 522); ICTY, Martić case, Review of the Indictment (“persons who, through their position of political or military authority, are able to order the commission of crimes”) (ibid., § 556).
[13] ICC Statute, Article 25(3)(b) (ibid., § 460); UNTAET Regulation No. 2000/15, Section 14(3) (ibid., § 472).
[14] See, e.g., the legislation of Belgium (ibid., § 501), Germany (ibid., § 507), Luxembourg (ibid., § 511) and Netherlands (ibid., § 513).
[15] See, e.g., the legislation of Belgium (ibid., § 501), Luxembourg (ibid., § 511) and Netherlands (ibid., § 513).