Acceptance of International Criminal Justice

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Acceptance of International Criminal Justice
International Nuremberg Principles Academy 



According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, acceptance refers to “agreeing either expressly or by conduct to the act or offer of another”, for example in order to close a binding contract. The term entails both passive and active features, ranging from recognizing a (negative) situation or condition to giving consent and expressing outright approval and belief. In order to evaluate the impact of international criminal justice, acceptance may be employed as a valuable indicator, exploring which actors accept, what of it they accept, when acceptance occurs and what this acceptance of international criminal justice entails.          


A notion that promotes the answerability and liability of individuals and public officials regarding their actions. In governance, political accountability involves account-giving behavior, the acknowledgement of responsibility for their actions and the obligation to act in the interests of society. Legal accountability pertains to structures that public officials can be held legally responsible for violations of established laws and principles. In the context of crimes against humanity, accountability refers to individuals being held accountable for their actions by the respective state or by the international community.    


An alternative and often more informal and quick means of dispute and conflict resolution outside court. Contending parties commonly present evidence to a third party tribunal and define the issues, grievances and demands to be arbitrated. Disputants may select most members of the third party, co-determine the procedural process and agree in advance to be legally bound by the arbitration decision.     


The act of retroactively exempting individuals or a specific group of people from criminal prosecution for criminal offenses committed, for instance human rights abuses or crimes against humanity. Blanket amnesty is the act of granting full immunity from prosecution, whereas partial and conditional amnesties either grant provisional pardons or acquittals subject to stipulated conditions. Past truth and reconciliation commissions have occasionally operated with a ‘truth for amnesty’ approach. Ongoing debates continue to discuss as to whether amnesties should be permissible under international law and to what extent they facilitate impunity and subsequently recurring conflict.


Child soldier

A boy or girl under the age of 18 who has been recruited into a regular or irregular armed force within which they occupy a wide range of roles from support roles to combat tasks. Although voluntary participation exists, child soldiers are often forcefully conscripted or manipulated into joining armed groups.  The 2007 “Paris Principles” provide definitions of child soldiering as well as best practices in addressing these violations (Paris Principles 2007). 

Civil society

A term to describe a wide range of voluntary, non-governmental and non-profit organizations, institutions, initiatives and networks which represent, advocate and protect the interests and values of their members and those they plead for through collective action in the public sphere. Civil society groups operate distinct from and independent of state systems and market concerns. Civil society action may be particularly vital and effective where states fail to provide its citizens with basic health and educational services. Typical examples of civil society groups are for instance labor unions, community groups, NGOs, charities, foundations, indigenous and religious groups. Commercial businesses, the media and political parties are commonly considered a tool to promote civil society but do not constitute part of it.

Civil war

A large-scale conflict between organized armed groups, including the state, within the same region, country or state. Civil wars are fought in order to gain control of the state or of parts of it, to gain access to and increase the share of political or economic power, and/or to achieve independence. 


Financial compensation means payment with money or with other things of economic value for labor, a service rendered or in exchange for goods that have been provided. Legally speaking, compensation refers to payments that are offered as a recompense to make up for damages such as loss, injury, suffering and breach of a contract or duty. In psychology, compensation is a mechanism by which feelings of real or imagined deficiencies and personal inferiority in some areas are concealed or counterbalanced by gratification and striving for excellence in other directions. See also reparations.         


The act of adhering and conforming to a wish or command. Legal compliance refers to enterprises and organizations (or legal persons) conforming to and fulfilling official requirements, as well as meeting contracts, standards and law regulations, more recently including compliance with ethical codes and by committing to mechanisms of self-monitoring and operational transparency. 


The confrontation of two or more parties in pursuit of competitive and mutually exclusive goals. Conflicts can be carried out violently, as is the case in international, non-international and transnational armed conflict, as well as border disputes and non-violently, as in elections and legal trials. With regard to contemporary conflicts, Peter Wallensteen (2002) differentiates between interstate, internal and state-formation conflicts. See also violence and war. 

Conflict analysis

Also known as conflict assessment or conflict mapping, conflict analysis is a precursor to conflict resolution. It is the methodical study of individual and group conflicts which involves the identification of stakeholders’ situations and interests, analysis of the causes and dynamics and it provides probable trajectories of conflicts in order to gain a deeper understanding of conflict management and resolution. 

Conflict prevention

Conflict prevention involves all measures that are taken to prevent violent conflict. This can be to prevent low-level conflicts from spiraling into violence, confining the increase of on-going violence, and precluding its reoccurrence. Measures taken involve early warning systems, preventive deployment, sanctions and confidence-building measures.       

Conflict resolution

Conflict resolution involves reconciliatory methods and processes in order to deal with underlying causes of conflicts and by promoting and facilitating a peaceful interaction between previously conflicting parties. Reconciliatory initiatives focus on identifying common interests and objectives of disputants, promote positive attitudes and aim at re-establishing trust between conflicting parties to allow for peaceful interaction.     


The dishonest conduct of abusing a position of power for personal gain by means of bribery, fraud, embezzlement, favoritism, extortion, forgery of records and trading in influence.  

Courts; domestic

The term domestic court refers to a magistrates’ court commonly dealing with domestic proceedings. Sometimes called home court, its jurisdiction is usually located at the place of a party’s residence. 

Courts; hybrid

In the field of international criminal justice, hybrid courts are newly established judicial bodies. They are ad hoc, treaty-based institutions, created for a limited period of time to sanction serious violations of international criminal law, mostly international humanitarian law and international human rights law violations. Hybrid courts are comprised of both national and international features, they are often of mixed composition and jurisdiction and commonly installed within the jurisdiction where the crimes have occurred, as part of or implanted onto the local judiciary system. These institutions are often staffed by national and international judges, apply both national and international laws, operate with predetermined principles of procedure and deliver binding verdicts.      

Crimes against humanity

Widespread and systematically organized atrocities, such as mass killings and systematic rape which target the civilian population. Sometimes, these attacks are tolerated, condoned or even carried out by a government or another authority. Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court describes in more detail the nature of these inhumane crimes. Although crimes against humanity may lack the specific intent that is intrinsic to genocide, they mostly form part of a policy of extensive and systematic violations developed and carried out by an individual or a specific group.   


The characteristics, knowledge and way of life of a particular society or ethnic group, manifest in shared beliefs, customs, behaviors, language, social habits, arts and products. Cross-cultural describes the interaction of members belonging to different cultures and who may differ in their way of communicating and negotiating behavior. The existence and acceptance of different cultures within the same society is referred to as multi-cultural. Awareness of cultural differences and biases is vital to the notion of cultural sensitivity. 



A system of government or of a community in which all adults are involved in decision-making processes through free and fair elections to determine indirectly or directly the representatives of their government by rule of majority. Terms such as democracy building and democratization refer to the strengthening of institutions (e.g. constitution building, development of political parties, rule of law initiatives, educational programs for civil society etc.) which consolidate and protect democratic governments and universally recognized liberties.  


The effort to prevent an impending action or persuade an opponent to refrain from taking an action by threatening that the costs, risks and negative consequences will outweigh the opponent’s projected benefits. The actions, as well as announced repercussions are mostly military attacks, but also involve economic and political actions and sanctions.    


The advancement and improvement of people’s lives. Whereas development was predominantly used to refer to achieving more economic growth and affluence, the term is increasingly deployed more broadly to include human development issues such as governance, education, human rights and the environment. 


Autocratic rule, as a form of government where absolute power is held by one person or a small group. A number of mechanisms are in place to systematically regulate almost every aspect of public and private life with the ultimate goal of securing one’s grip on absolute power, including political propaganda, censorship and the oppression of political opposition.   


The movement, migration, displacement, or scattering of a population away from its original geographical or ancestral homeland. The term Diaspora refers to such a population and to the place where this population lives. 

(Forced) Disappearances

The term, also referred to as enforced disappearance, refers to the (secret) arrest, detention or abduction by, or with the support of the authorities or a political organization. It is followed by the denial of the deprivation of the right to freedom. The intent is to remove the person in question from the protection of the law. Under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, enforced disappearances qualify as a crime against humanity. 



A formal decision-making process by which citizens indirectly or directly choose and vote for their representatives to the legislature and where applicable, to the executive and judiciary sectors, for regional and local governments. A number of voting systems are in place but most are based on proportional or majoritarian distribution. 


The moral concepts and principles of right and wrong conduct which govern individuals and groups. It is derived from the Ancient Greek word for habit or custom.

Ethnic cleansing

Systematic, deliberate and violent removal of a specific people from an area, including the expulsion of their cultural evidence, due to their belonging to an ethnic, communal, religious or sectarian group. This can include murder and rape but also forced migration, for example, through deportation.


Gender-based violence

Violence that targets individuals or groups based on gender or sex. Gender-based violence are acts causing physical pain and mental harm. These may include coercion, illegal restraint and deprivation of personal freedom, rape, forced impregnation, torture, sexual slavery, mutilation and murder. Boys and men are likewise victims of gender-based violence, however girls and women are disproportionally more affected. See also sexual violence.

Geneva Conventions

Comprised of four treaties and three additional protocols, the Geneva Convention defines the basic rights of and established the legal and protective standards for humane treatment of non-combatants and combatants in armed conflict. The first three conventions were adopted in 1864, with a fourth added in 1949, augmented by Protocol I and II in 1977 and with an additional protocol annexed in 2005. The Geneva Conventions regulate international humanitarian law in the field of the protection of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked armed forces, as well as the protection of prisoners of war and the protection of civilians. 


As Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines, genocide is committed with the intent to systematically reduce or eliminate ‘a national, ethnic, racial or religious group: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group’. 


The establishing of rules and policies that are in place to ensure social, political, judicial and economic processes in order to foster the continuous development of a society.  Governance also involves the constant monitoring of a proper and balanced exercise of authority and of a proper implementation of rules and policies. Good governance refers to a process that is in service of all members of society and complies with levels of accountability and transparency, and that curtails bad practices such as corruption.  

Guarantees of non-repetition

A category relevant to the principle of reparation, as stated in the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law. It may include institutional reforms granting more civilian control of military and security forces, the strengthening of the judicial independence, the protection of individuals in legal, medical and health-care, the media and human rights professions, the provision of human rights and international humanitarian law education and the promotion of international human rights standards in all public sectors.     


The notion of individual guilt is the culpability for a crime or any harmful act, or the unpleasant emotion knowing or thinking that he or she has done something wrong or has violated moral standards. Collective guilt or collective responsibility refers to individuals feeling or being responsible for other people’s harmful actions, even if they did not actively take part in these actions, but tolerated, ignored or accommodated them in any way. To experience guilt, one must show at least partial empathy with the victim group or their suffering.


Hate speech

Aggressive and discriminatory speech that attacks a specific person or group with the intent to promote hatred against this person or group based on their race, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disability. Hate speech fosters discrimination and hatred and may even promote or facilitate violence.   

Human rights

Human rights are mostly understood as rights inherently entitled to by being a human being, regardless of their nationality, gender, religion or other status. It imposes an obligation to respect the human rights of others. Human rights are often protected as legal rights through the adoption in national or international law, some of which have customary international law status meaning that they are universal in their applicability. These legal obligations require governments to act or refrain from acting in certain ways. As has been defined by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, human rights include, amongst others, the right to life, equality before the law, liberty, education and the right of free speech, belief, religion, movement and association.



The effect and ramifications of something (new) on a situation or individual. With regard to transitional justice, Thoms et. al (2008) find that little research has been done to measure the impact of transitional justice mechanisms and call for more multi-method and long-term research.


Fair and just treatment of all sides.


Exemption or immunity from punishment or penalty for crimes. Governments with a weak rule of law are more likely to fail to bring perpetrators to justice which in turn denies victims’ the right to justice and reparations and thus does not contribute to the prevention of future re-occurrences of violations. This can be either a de jure or de facto impossibility to hold the perpetrators accountable.    

International community

A term to refer to a number of allied governments and peoples of the world considered or acting together as a collective due to shared views and positions regarding issues such as human rights. Though the term remains blurry, the ‘international community’ is commonly called upon to prompt political action on e.g. human rights violations and in order to reach united international accord on critical issues.

International criminal justice

Legal mechanisms and instruments with which the international community and governments investigate and prosecute atrocious international crimes, crimes against humanity, war crimes, human rights violations and genocide.  

International criminal law

A body of law and a subset of public international law chaired by international and hybrid courts, prosecuting individuals rather than states or organizations for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and aggression. Sources of international criminal law include treaties, international customary law, general principles of law and judicial decisions, as well as juristic writings.

International humanitarian law 

International humanitarian law regulates the conduct and responsibilities of nations and individuals engaged in armed conflict, with special regard to the protection of civilians and in an effort to balance humanitarian and military concerns to limit the destructive effect of war and mitigate human suffering. It generally applies to international conflicts but a subset of rules is applicable to non-international  armed conflicts. International humanitarian law is mostly regulated by the Geneva Conventions. See Geneva Conventions.


The military or non-military involvement of a third party in the affairs of another nation, unilaterally or multilaterally requested or imposed. Peace-keeping and humanitarian missions are typical examples of post-conflict interventions that seek to build peace or relieve human suffering where states are unable or unwilling to deal with the situation. Other interferences may be the punishment of state’s aggression against another, responding to violations of international treaties and agreements and to prevent imminent ecological disasters.  

Intractable conflict

A complex and protracted conflict that endures and has resisted all attempts of being resolved. Intractable conflicts commonly involve deep-seated disagreements with regard to racial, ethnic, religious and cultural issues; they often involve high-value distributional questions, power and domination issues, and the denial of basic human needs. 



Jurisdiction refers to the power or the right of a legal or political institution to administer justice by interpreting and exercising the law, e.g. by arresting and punishing criminal offenders. It also refers to the authority or right of a sovereign power to govern and legislate a particular area or it relates to a territory within which a specific body of laws is applied, also known as national jurisdiction. Universal Jurisdiction does not require a prosecuting state to be linked to a particular crime. In fact, it permits domestic courts to hold criminal jurisdiction over an accused, regardless of the accuser’s nationality and residence or where the crime was committed. This doctrine is usually applied in cases of erga omnes, ‘‘crimes against all’’, that is when crimes amount against the whole of humanity, such as piracy, slavery, crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and torture.        


Punitive or retributive justice pursues punishment of the offender, proportionally to the severity of the offense committed. Restorative justice focuses on repairing harm that has been done, relying, if possible, on the participation of victims to define what must be restored and to determine how offenders can fulfill this restoration. Moreover, the focus away from merely punitive justice fosters reconciliatory dialogue between victims and offenders. Social justice refers to the fair and correct administration of laws, as well as to the provision of basic benefits to all individuals; it also refers to the social responsibility of individuals towards their societies. Additionally, distributive justice refers to the just allocation of goods and services to society members. Non-state or customary justice refers to various informal, traditional, religious and other alternative dispute resolution systems which often take place at the community level. Customary justice derives its authority from established community structures and exists instead of,or alongside formal legal justice mechanisms.



In its original sense, legacy refers to money or property that has been transmitted or handed down from a predecessor or ancestor. In the context of international courts and tribunals, legacy refers to the lasting effects these institutions have in the legal, political or social landscapes in which they operate. Hence, legacy may be less of a legal nature, and may be subject to change over time. 


The acceptance, by authorization, of an authority as the body that governs and executes the law and of procedures that demand obedience, cooperation and consent. Regarding international criminal law, legitimacy means that an institution is authorized by an authoritative body to govern and that its mandate and actions are accepted or recognized by both the affected population and host country administration. 


In negotiation, leverage is the power different parties have to influence the outcome in their favor. Leverage may involve being more patient than the other party, having something the other party needs or desires. 

The ‘Local’

Similar to the term ‘micro-level’, the ‘local’ refers to the substate, the community and individual within. Shaw et al. (2010: 6) define the local as a ’standpoint based in a particular locality but not bounded by it.’ In order to better understand the setting and everyday politics in which transitional justice policies are employed, for example, the Justice and Security Research Programme (JSRP) advocates to focus on the end-user and the ‘local’ in research and analysis, in order to assess the effectiveness and consequence of transitional justice instruments and how their implementation is experienced within the ‘local’ social and political landscape.       

Local ownership

In development aid and transitional justice discourses, local ownership is a notion that a certain society or groups feel they have the power to communicate and/or manage their own needs and priorities or where they are allowed to participate in the design, management and implementation of respective projects that affect their lives. 


Mass atrocities

Widespread, large-scale and deliberate violent acts directed against a population, causing pain and suffering. This includes war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. 


Nongovernmental organization (NGO)

A private, voluntary, civic, charitable and non-profit organization that is self-governed and operates to, for instance promote and establish development, environmental protection, education, health, human rights or the institutionalization of democratic structures. It is neither a profit based business, nor does it form part of the government.


Parties to the conflict

The hierarchical differentiation of disputants involved in a conflict. Disputants are divided into primary and secondary parties. The first party commonly holds the decision-making power and must be consulted for every step of any negotiation whereas secondary parties have less leverage but can nonetheless affect the outcome by backing or rejecting first party actions. 

Peace; peace process

A complex term referring to various notions, such as the mere absence of conflict, violence and hostilities (negative peace as defined by J. Galtung), the cessation of violence and hostilities and the process of settling conflict by political procedures. Others describe peace as a state of justice and social stability, personal freedom and economic well-being (positive peace), ensured through formal and informal institutions, practices and shared values. Positive peace is a very subjective term. The term peace process relates to measures taken to reach a peace accord and to ensure its implementation. These typically involve negotiation, mediation and employ e.g. confidence-building measures, risk-reduction strategies, conciliation efforts, deployment of international forces and observer missions, fact-finding documentation.          

Peace building; peacemaking

A broad term to refer to programs, policies and efforts to normalize and restore peaceful relationships, societal stability and to rebuild governance structures in the aftermath of armed conflict. Peace building is a long-term and transformative process of addressing the origins and effects of conflict by promoting reconciliation and reconstruction, and establishing non-violent modes of resolving conflict. It also includes humanitarian relief, the protection of human rights, the strengthening of security and educational structures, economic reconstruction, and returning refugees and internally displaced people. Peace building is sometimes understood as a connecting link between conflict resolution and positive peace. Peacemaking are conflict management efforts that focus on bringing conflicts to an end and facilitate the negotiation of hostile parties to reach an agreement, commonly by means of negotiation and third party mediation, in order to prevent a reoccurrence of the conflict.    

Peace vs. justice debate

It is often argued that peace and justice are mutually exclusive. Meaning that only either of it can be achieved. On the one hand, criminal justice is understood as a deterrent tool to prevent the reoccurrence of violence. On the other hand, others have argued that criminal justice can jeopardize ongoing peace processes, as it might instigate further hatred and make victims live through the conflict anew, while they might prefer to forget. In practice, transitional justice cases have shown that often a mixed application of justice and peace mechanisms is needed in order to bring sustainable peace to the region. 

Political violence

A means used by individuals, groups and governments to achieve political goals. For instance, political violence is the organized or systematic use of violence by a group for political ends in an attempt to influence government policies and force authorities to respond to their demands. Political violence can take a number of forms including rebellion, war, terrorism, revolution, conquest, oppression, and tyranny. 

Post-conflict recovery

A lengthy process of remaking, reconstructing and rebuilding a society after violent conflict. Post-conflict recovery involves the rebuilding of political, social, economic and physical spheres, including disarmament and reintegration of former combatants, repatriation of internally displaced persons, reforming administrative institutions, facilitating and fostering trauma and reconciliation work, return to and exercise of justice, reviving the economy and restoring local infrastructure. War-to-peace-transitions and post-conflict reconstruction are associated terms.

Prosecutions; domestic, international

Domestic prosecution refers to the act of taking legal action against offenders at the national level, exercising jurisdiction on national and international crimes by drawing on domestic, constitutional and international criminal law. Concerning international crimes, the ICC’s Rome Statute favors prosecutions at national level by domestic courts (Principle of Complementarity, Article 17 and 53 of the Rome Statute). A case is only admissible to the ICC, if the state in question is either unwilling or unable to prosecute the suspect at national level.



A process to transform and overcome remaining malevolence and feelings of hatred amongst (still) antagonist conflict parties in order to create feelings of acceptance and forgiveness of past hostilities and harmful acts. This is to prevent retributive actions and lay the foundation for sustainable peace. This may involve dialogue, acknowledgement of guilt, expression of remorse, recourse to justice, compensations for victims, truth commissions and rituals for forgiveness. Reconciliation aims at both social healing and durable political stabilization.      


Rehabilitation, amongst others, is one of the forms of reparation to, or in respect of victims. Reparation can further be made in the form of restitution, compensation, satisfaction and the guarantee of non-repetition. As stipulated in Article 21 of the UN Basic Principles on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation (2005), rehabilitation includes medical and psychological care, and the provision of legal and social services.


A form of redress or compensation for damages caused by violations of international humanitarian and/or human rights law. They may comprise of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. By redressing the suffering of victims the international community reaffirms the principles of accountability, justice and the rule of law. The different forms of reparations are to be made by the bearer of responsibility for the violation. These can either be made on a voluntary basis or as a consequence of a court proceeding. See also compensations and rehabilitation.


In the context of transitional justice processes, Jones et al. (2013: 15) define resistance as “a purposeful act intended by the actor to work against, prevent or disrupt the intended or implemented formal transitional justice process’’. However, the authors argue that forms of resistance are inevitable contestations, negotiations and meta-narratives in the process of transitional justice and that they may shed light on ‘‘the presence of divergent approaches to peace and justice within a given society’’.  

Restorative approaches in transitional justice

Based on the notion of restorative justice, restorative approaches or practices are guiding principles which focus on building, maintaining and repairing relationships and those that foster social responsibility and accountability. In addition to pursuing accountability measures such as punishing offenders, restorative approaches concentrate on rectifying the harm done to victims and restoring the relationships between victims and perpetrators. See also justice

Rule of law

The accountability to the law. A form of governance in which the state, all people and all institutions in it adhere to and are equally accountable to the same legislation, legal codes and processes. Laws are drafted and announced in a transparent and public manner, are equally and fairly enforced and in line with international human rights standards. All people must have guaranteed access to justice and its institutions.



A subjective state in which individuals or collectives feel safe and secure from threats and dangers e.g. terrorist attacks, military attacks; the latter notion is commonly linked to the notion of national security. The concept has recently been broadened to include environmental and economic issues. Human security focuses on individual needs, including food security, and more generally, freedom from fear and freedom from want.  

Sexual violence

Gender-based violence that includes any act, attempt or threat of sexual violence, sexual exploitation and abuse that can cause physical or psychological harm. Sexual violence includes rape and marital rape, sexual abuse of minors, spousal beatings, violence to do with dowries, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, sexual slavery, sex trafficking and forced prostitution. Sexual violence has also been used as a systematic weapon in war and as a part of ethnic cleansing, genocide respectively. See also gender-based violence.

Social media

Computer-mediated, internet-based tools and applications that provide platforms for sharing user-generated content and information, also known as Web 2.0. Social media applications are blogs, social networking sites such as Facebook, career sites such as LinkedIn, news websites and photo- and video-sharing websites like Instagram, Flickr and YouTube. 

Social well-being

Living conditions or a situation which is characterized by people’s peaceful coexistence and access to basic human needs and services such as water, shelter, food, health services and education. Improving social well-being, besides measures to install the rule of law, security, good governance and economic development, is crucial for societies recovering from recent conflict; it can also include the repatriation of displaced persons and the reestablishment of social structures and community life.

Socio-economic rights

Socio-economic rights form part of principal rights that provide people with access to certain basic needs such as adequate living standards, health care, housing, education, food and water, in order to lead a dignified life. Economic, social and cultural rights are recognized and protected under international human rights law (e.g. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). Governments can be held accountable to protect, respect and fulfill these rights.


The full right and absolute power and supremacy of a governing body to govern its own affairs independently and without external interference, either de jure or de facto. Sovereignty is one of the basic principles of the Peace of Westphalia, which is the ruling principle in international law on the definition of a nation state.  In reality, state sovereignty is seldom absolute and states share or limit authority voluntarily (for instance, through agreements or peacekeeping mandates) or through a supranational institution, such as the European Union or the United Nations.     


Anyone who intends to obstruct or sabotage an ongoing peace process or the enforcement of an agreement, usually because it impairs or jeopardizes their own power and interests. 


Generally, sustainability is the ability to endure indefinitely. In capacity building, the term refers to creating capacity that will continue to operate effectively even after the measure ends or the intermediator leaves. In development discourse, it refers to satisfying present needs without compromising the needs of future generations to come. Regarding natural resources, sustainability means harnessing resources without exhausting them. In a wider context regarding the environment the term refers to meeting basic human needs while preserving environmental quality in the future. 



There is no legal agreement on the definition of terrorism. It is mostly defined as the use or threat of violence, as a tactic to call attention to and further a (political) cause. Terrorism often targets civilians and can be committed either by governments, domestically or abroad, state-sponsored groups or non-state actors. Terrorist acts can aim at encouraging others to follow suit and intend to press opponents into making concessions.


According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, tolerance refers to ‘‘the capacity to endure pain or hardship’’, including becoming less responsive to it due to repeated exposure but tolerance also describes ‘‘a sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from conflicting with one’s own’’ and ‘‘the allowable deviation from a standard’’. It may be a useful concept to describe attitudes toward international criminal law and/or its institutions in the context of a research on acceptance of international criminal justice. 

Transitional justice

Measures to address large-scale human rights abuses which exceed the capacities of existing judicial and non-judicial structures in place. It is an approach to achieve justice in a transition from conflict Efforts can include criminal prosecutions, the establishment of truth commissions, reparations, gender justice, institutional reforms (e.g. the security system), memorialization, reconciliation, and educational programs. Transitional justice intends to provide recognition for the victims and to strengthen the rule of law. See also rule of law


A formal and legally binding agreement between two or more states or other internationally recognized legal entities. Treaties can either be bilateral or multilateral. The development of a treaty undergoes a co-operative process of drafting preliminary versions, adopting and authenticating a final version, ratifying it and enacting it as a binding agreement. Conventions for instance, some of which involve enforcement mechanisms, others do not, usually deal with major interstate concerns while a protocol may be used to make reference to a draft of a document and to the record or revision to an agreement. A treaty can be in the form of a protocol, convention, covenant or pact. They can include amendments and/or reservations.     


In international law, tribunals refer to courts that are not of normal jurisdiction but are constituted for special purposes. For example, the UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda or the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  

Truth (and reconciliation) commissions

A temporarily established body tasked with the documentation of human rights violations and war crimes committed by governments and non-state actors. Truth and reconciliation commissions are set up in order to resolving conflict, fostering social healing, reconciliation and occasionally addressing matters of rehabilitation and reparation. Commissions are sometimes authorized to grant full or partial amnesties in exchange for testimonies, a practice that has been criticized for allowing for impunity. 


Truth recovery

The term comprises four different approaches, differentiating between objective and forensic truth (collecting evidence about human rights violations and missing people), narrative truth (testimonies of personal experiences to the public, story-telling by victims and perpetrators), social and dialogical truth (initiated by debates and interaction) and restorative truth (collection of factual data and acknowledgement) to commemorate victims and contribute to the social healing of survivors.

Truth vs. justice debate

A debate balancing the pros and cons of trials in comparison with alternative mechanisms of accountability. Truth commissions, established as an alternative to prosecutions, have been valued for their public truth telling, thorough documentation and its subsequent potential to provide redress for victims, deal with the past and prevent attitudes of denial, as well as contributing to social healing, dialogue and reconciliation efforts. See also truth (and reconciliation) commissions. 



The intentional physical or psychological force exerted to threaten, harm, injure, abuse or kill a person, group or community, or an deliberate attack to damage and destroy property. Violent conflict is the outbreak of hostilities between opposing organized groups or the state, fought by prolonged and extensive use of force. Structural violence describes inequalities resulting from structures inherent in social systems, for instance, disparities in income distribution.  See also conflict, war.



War, also referred to as armed conflict is a state of sustained armed conflict between two or more parties, either between or within nation-states, which is characterized by collective hostility, large-scale destruction and high mortality rates. Warring agents are conventional military forces, paramilitary forces or guerrillas in pursuit of accomplishing their corresponding political objectives. War continues until one party achieves its goals or the other party surrenders or is defeated. There are numerous categorizations of warfare ranging from low-intensity conflicts to total war. Examples for different types of warfare employing various types of weapons are conventional war, civil war, ethnic war, proxy war, total war, nuclear war, and chemical war. 

The nature of contemporary wars is changing: although wars have generally become shorter, the size of armed forces is growing, more geographic areas experience fighting and the amount of battles per year has increased, which also spill over more easily to additional belligerents. With an increasing number of low-intensity conflicts, revolutions, counter-revolutions and proxy wars after the Second World War, fatalities among combatants are decreasing while casualties on the side of civilians are on the rise, as are environmental and economic costs. See also civil war, violence.

War crimes

Crimes committed in times of armed conflict and violations of the laws of war or international humanitarian law during ongoing conflict. War crimes are defined in Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. War crimes include the intentional and unnecessary killing of non-combatants, torture, rape, forced labor, the taking of hostages, deportation, the deliberate plundering and unwarranted destruction of property and the use of certain weapons. The Geneva Conventions, as the main law governing warfare, protect shipwrecked, wounded and sick military staff, as well as non-combatants and prisoners of war. See also Geneva Conventions. 

Sources consulted

Africa Centre for Open Governance & Kenyans for Peace with Truth & Justice (2015) ‘‘Domestic Prosecution of International Crimes. Lessons for Kenya.’’;

AMICC (The American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court): ‘‘Questions and Answers on the ICC and Universal Jurisdiction.”  

Berghof Foundation (ed.) (2012) ‘‘Berghof Glossary on Conflict Transformation. 20 Notions for Theory and Practice.” 

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