Legal, Criminological and Philosophical Perspectives on Mass Atrocity - NOTE: the course is cancelled in the autumn semester 2020

Course content

International criminal law (ICL) is premised on the ambition to bring an end to impunity for mass atrocities. This noble ambition saw a revival first in the 1990s through the ad hoc tribunals established in the wake of conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, and later in 2002 through the establishment of the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. Increasingly over the last few years, however, the international criminal tribunals and especially the ICC have been subjected to intense criticism. They are accused of violating the rule of law and giving way to Victor’s justice; of jeopardizing often fragile peace in the pursuit of justice; of misunderstanding the nature of mass atrocities by focusing on individual offenders; of being a racist court singularly targeting African countries, etc. Instead, alternative transitional justice mechanisms like truth and reconciliation commissions are advocated as more fitting responses.

In this situation, adequately engaging with international criminal justice requires a wider understanding of the phenomenon of mass atrocities and of possible legal and quasi-legal responses to it. This class aims to provide this to the students. Besides a basic training in ICL, it introduces students to socio-empirical studies, criminological and philosophical theories of criminal justice in relation to collective violence.


This course is part of iCourts Excellence Programme (iEP) – International Law and Courts in a Global World, please see 'Remarks' below.

Learning outcome


The course will provide students with basic training in the fields of study relevant to the phenomenon of mass atrocity, namely international criminal law, comparative criminal law, reparations law, criminology of collective violence, and philosophy of punishment. It will then be followed by a more in-depth discussion structured around distinct phases of collective violence – (1) commission of mass atrocity (2) identifying the conduct to be condemned (criminalization) (3) punishment of those responsible (4) re-entry of victims and perpetrators into society and (5) prevention, or deterrence. Each stage bears distinct analytical significance in terms of appropriate responses to it.


Students will exercise analytical thinking to explain complex scenarios of mass atrocities. In particular, they will be able to identify (1) why a certain conflict is erupting; (2) who are the victims and perpetrators; (3) what is its dynamic, and (4) what are the applicable legal frameworks at play. With the help of the instructors students will learn to 'filter' the available data (legal sources, news, social media, etc.) to form a balanced opinion regarding the outbreak of collective violence. Students will then be able to make sound legal judgments regarding appropriate responses to mass atrocity and to reflect critically on these decisions. Students will have the possibility to link concrete cases of mass violence to broader theoretical questions in criminology and philosophy of punishment, etc. Group assignments, exercises in class and discussions will allow students to test their acquired knowledge in class and develop methodology of approaching complex legal and socio-political phenomena. The final project based exam will provide space for synthesizing knowledge and skills acquired throughout the course. Students will be asked to choose a real life situation, assess it and devise a comprehensive response to it.


Students will acquire competence to critically assess various types of responses to mass atrocity. The course will equip students with tools for providing legal and policy advice to NGOs; governments; international organizations; mass media and other actors on the nature of individual instances of mass atrocity and possible responses to it. Students will be able to independently carry out legal scientific analyses in relation to responses to mass atrocity - by systematically, critically and independently identifying and analyzing pertinent legal scientific problems. Students will take away competence to reflect critically on the geopolitical role of international criminal justice.

During the course students will be asked to analyze various legal materials (statutes, laws, cases, memoranda, declarations) and theoretical texts in relevant disciplines. Students will be invited to work in groups and make presentations related to various conflict situations and theoretical approaches of international criminal justice. Each presentation will be followed by a group discussion.

English proficiency, written and oral

Please observe, this course is part of iCourts Excellence Programme (iEP) – International Law and Courts in a Global World. Students who sign up for the iEP become iCourts Student Fellows and will get a unique opportunity to become part of the research environment of iCourts – the only centre of excellence in law in Denmark. The iEP is open to all Danish and foreign BA and MA students at the Faculty. All iCourts courses may be taken as stand-alone courses but only students who complete a total of at least 45 ECTS courses offered by the centre or of 30 ECTS such courses plus write their MA-thesis with an iCourts Supervisor will receive a certificate confirming their participation in the iEP. Read more about the programme here: https:/​/​​icourts/​education/​excellence-programme/​

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Individuel written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

Students are assessed based on the quality of their exams. This quality is judged first, according to the demonstrated knowledge and understanding of the mandatory reading materials and the lectures taught during the course; second, according to the analytic skills demonstrated by the exam with special emphasis on the skills systematically developed during the course; and finally, based on the ability to communicate these ideas accurately and coherently.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Preparation
  • 356,5
  • Seminar
  • 56
  • English
  • 412,5