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'Only One Step Away From Genocide': The Crime of Persecution in International Criminal Law

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The law of persecutions has given rise to a certain definitional instability and judicial unease, notably due to the fact that the crime itself falls short of a definitive and comprehensive definition. As this article proposes to argue, this legal opacity could be unveiled by revisiting the law of Nuremberg, which, through the creation of the new crime against humanity of 'persecutions', might have in reality marked the birth in positive international law of the concept of 'genocide' itself. By keeping the crime of persecutions within the definitional ambit of crimes against humanity while simultaneously emancipating and recognizing genocide as a separate and distinct crime, contemporary international law has generated legal uncertainty and misconceptions as well as judicial unease, so much so that persecutions now found themselves somewhere between crimes against humanity and genocide. Not only is this definitional floating and opacity troublesome from a legality perspective, it also misunderstands the Nuremberg precedent and ultimately risks trivializing the essence of the crime of genocide itself.

Affiliations: 1: School of Law, University of Exeter, UK


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