This chapter discusses the elements of international crimes. In general, a crime is conceived as having two components: prohibited conduct (which may be called the objective, material, or ‘real’ element of the crime or its actus reus) and a culpable mental state (which may be called the subjective, or mental element of the crime or its mens rea). In addition to material and mental elements, certain international crimes may also require a contextual element. That is, some international crimes may require that the prohibited act occurs in or has a relationship to a particular set of circumstances: for example, a war crime must be closely connected with an armed conflict. This contextual element is sometimes also called a nexus requirement.
This chapter focuses on the crime of genocide. The prohibition against genocide is now found in treaty and customary law, and is universally accepted as being an international crime ‘whether committed in time of peace or in time of war’. Genocide requires that a prohibited act is committed against a member of one of the protected groups, being a ‘national, ethnical, racial, or religious group’. The chapter first considers the definition of the protected groups. It then outlines the legal definitions of the prohibited acts; considers whether there is a ‘contextual element’ required as part of the crime of genocide; and examines the mental element of the crime of genocide and the role of the ‘special intent’ requirement.
This chapter discusses the definition of crimes against humanity, its underlying offences, and some of the historical and theoretical issues surrounding the offence. It first outlines the evolution of the legal definition of crimes against humanity, which occurred through the statutes of international criminal tribunals. It then deals with the ‘contextual element’ of the offence; considers the prohibited acts that may form the conduct underlying a crime against humanity, with the exception of the complex crime of persecution; and examines the crime of persecution. Finally, it re-considers the question why there should be a separate category of crimes against humanity.