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‘We Demand Dignity for the Victims’ – Reflections on the Legal Qualification of the Indecent Disposal of Corpses

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‘We demand dignity for the victims’. Such was the pledge of the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs following the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight mh17 in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine and the looting of the corpses of the 298 victims. Although not an isolated instance, the indecent disposal of the corpses of the victims seems to have escaped legal scrutiny. Drawing from this and other case studies, this article addresses the legal qualification of acts of mistreatment perpetrated against the corpses of victims of international crimes. It analyses all relevant dispositions pertaining to international humanitarian law, international criminal law and the law of trafficking in human beings. While these provisions fail to legally characterize such acts, the judiciary however tends to recognize their criminality; a recognition which, in the authors’ views, could make its way into the text of international (criminal) law.

Affiliations: 1: Law Faculty, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands,;


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