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Superior Responsibility

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Chapter Summary

Pursuing accountability for mass atrocities through international criminal law has, by design, mostly involved trying those persons who bear the greatest responsibility for those crimes. The doctrine of superior responsibility entails an imputation of responsibility to superiors for the acts of subordinates that they omitted to prevent, repress, or punish. This chapter explores the development of superior responsibility and assesses the suitability of such a doctrine for contemporary international criminal law. The 1919 Commission on the Responsibility of the Authors of the War and on the Enforcement of Penalties made a concerted effort to introduce the idea of command or superior responsibility. The form of superior responsibility proposed by the majority of the 1919 Commission was not reproduced in the Treaty of Versailles nor relied upon in the subsequent Leipzig trials.

Keywords: 1919 Commission; international criminal law; superior responsibility; Treaty of Versailles



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