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Omnipresent Threats: A Comment on the Defence of Duress in International Criminal Law

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This article argues that in the context of international criminal law, the defence of duress must be considered where an actor is compelled to commit a crime as a result of a sufficiently serious threat – even if the form of that threat is not explicit or direct and the pending harm will not necessarily occur within a specific period of time. Drawing on the current conflict in Syria to exemplify our argument, we advocate for an approach that allows consideration of the many environmental factors that may cumulatively create an ‘omnipresent threat’ that should not be disregarded by the criminal justice system. We propose that duress should be considered where the actor held a genuine and reasonable belief that she faced a sufficiently serious threat and that commission of the offence was the only way to escape the harm. We urge that Article 31(1)(d) of the Rome Statute be interpreted accordingly.

Affiliations: 1: Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada; 2: Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada


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