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Statement by Judge LIU Daqun

It is my great honour and privilege to have been invited to speak at this event launching the book series of the ‘Historical Origins of International Criminal Law’. I would like to thank the Centre for International Law Research and Policy (‘CILRAP’) for this research project and for hosting this event. This is the largest research project on international criminal law to date, with more than 3,300 pages in four volumes, involving 83 chapters and 103 authors from around the world. It must have been an exceptionally demanding project to manage while maintaining the highest quality in every respect. CILRAP has made a substantial contribution to the international legal community by shedding light on the complete historical context of the origins of international criminal law. I offer my congratulations.

Through the contributions of the many talented authors, this book series has demonstrated that international criminal law not only originated from Europe and Western legal philosophies, but also from other great and historical cultures with rich legal traditions, such as China, Japan, Korea, India and Turkey. For example, the book series highlights that the roots of superior responsibility go back nearly 2,300 years to about 340 BC during the Warring States period in China.  During this period, an ancient book on warfare stated that a superior’s criminal responsibility should be equal to that of his subordinates who committed the crime; a principle recognised in many domestic and international jurisdictions today. It is from these historical roots in ancient China that we can understand the evolution of the superior responsibility doctrine in contemporary international criminal law.

It is not just the analysis of China’s contributions to international legal development that make the book series so unique, but also its inclusion of contributions from other prominent cultures and areas of the world. During the Istanbul Trials, related to the 1915 deportation and massacre of the Armenian population in Turkey, the wording used in the first trial and subsequent trials against cabinet ministers discussed an element of superior responsibility, namely that a superior could be held criminally responsible for not preventing crimes committed by subordinates after having become aware of them. Today, this has become a key part of superior responsibility jurisprudence in the International Tribunals for ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Additionally, the language used in a number of verdicts of the Istanbul Trials with respect to massacres, extermination or annihilation of a civilian population refers to Armenian Christians as a religious group and the term “premeditation” in carrying out those horrific acts.  This type of wording has been echoed in the 1948 Genocide Convention, as well as in the Statutes of the ICTY, ICTR and the International Criminal Court. The significance of these contributions to the debate and development of international criminal law cannot be overstated, but it was not until the book series discussed and analysed them at length that such contributions were given proper weight in the historical context of international criminal law.

These are just a few examples of historical contributions to international criminal law made by non-Western states that are discussed in the book series. By recognizing the historical significance that these states have had in the development of international criminal law, the book series has allowed for a more inclusive and global perspective of the law to be realized.  In turn, I hope that this will create more cohesion and consistency amongst all states in the understanding, development, and practice of international criminal law.

Confucius once said: “Study the past if you would define the future”. This lesson is especially important in defining the future of something with as high stakes as international criminal law, where we try to bring the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes to justice. The book series finally provides us the complete history and greater context to study and tackle new issues in international criminal law in the hope of helping define its future. I look forward to its inevitable impact on our understanding of the law.

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