91192 - International Criminal Justice

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in International Relations (cod. 9084)

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students will have learned: the foundational principles of international criminal law and justice; the historical evolution of international criminal justice and its current mechanisms; how to critically analyse the different responses to international crimes. Students are expected to acquire the necessary skills to identify the political and juridical main concerns of the selected different contexts and mechanisms - whether at the national or international level, retributive or restorative.

Course contents

The objective of the course is the analysis of international criminal justice. After a general introduction on the concept of international crimes and the fundamental distinction between retributive and restorative justice models, the course will focus on the different and numerous mechanisms of international criminal justice.

The first part of the course centres on the constituent pillars and the historical evolution of international criminal law and justice. In particular, the course will examine the experience of the Nuremberg Tribunals to nowadays mechanisms and institutions, both at a national and international level, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). The latter represents a significant case study, which offers a convenient vantage point to discern the characteristic traits of international crimes (large-scale violence accompanied by the requisite of “gravity”) along with the related obstacles to effective prosecution. After an overview on the trigger mechanisms of the Court, our classes examine some relevant aspects (e.g., the Court’s composition, the criteria of judges’ appointment) as well as some of the most controversial judicial decisions, which sparked a debate about the challenges of a potentially universal jurisdiction. These decisions include, for example, those in the situations of Libya, Burundi, Comoros Islands (incident of “Freedom Flotilla for Gaza”), Myanmar, Sudan and Afghanistan.

Particular emphasis is placed on other mechanisms, of retributive nature, established to prosecute international crimes, including the experience of ad hoc Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, but above all the mixed (or hybrid) tribunals, which emerged as a manifestation of an alternative paradigm of international justice, in which, in various forms, national players are also involved in the efforts to deliver justice (e.g., judges, lawyers, victims, activists). Of note are, for example, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, set up to try the former leaders of the Khmer Rouge, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Prosecutor’s Office, and the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal to try former Chad ruler Hissene Habré.

The second part of the course focuses on some of the interesting and innovative experiences grounded in the model of restorative justice, such as the different Commissions for truth and reconciliation. In this regard, the course analyses the Latin-American experience (e.g., in Colombia, Argentina, Peru), and, in particular, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission will represent a most relevant case study.

The last part of the course is dedicated to the study of the most significant landmark decisions of regional human rights courts (notably, the European and Inter-American Courts of Human Rights) and national courts (from Latin America, Spain, Germany, Italy and France) on international crimes. The objective is to highlight the relevant concerns regarding international criminal justice both at the national and international level; in particular, the arduous balance between substantive justice and strict and formal legality, between peace and justice.

Special attention will be paid to the constant and active involvement of the students, the contribution of practitioners and assignments to guide students in the understanding of practical cases, particularly lawyers and judges, as well as the arrangement of activities to train the students on actual case solutions.

Part I – International Crimes

  • Definition
  • Categories of international crimes
  • Historical evolution of international criminal justice
    • International criminal justice: history and evolution (from the Nuremberg ad hoc Tribunals; to the International Criminal Court)
    • The Statute of Rome of the International Criminal Court. The system of the International Criminal Court: jurisdiction, complementarity, admissibility, procedural law and other general principles.
    • The proliferation of international criminal Tribunals: evolution and future perspectives of hybrid models (Cambodia, Senegal, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and more)
    • The International Criminal Court crisis? An overlook on most controversial recent case law (in particular the Bemba case, the Gbagbo case, Afghanistan, Head of State’s immunity)
    • The International Criminal Justice as a sui generis system: the tensions characterising prevention and repression of international crimes

Part II – Restorative Justice

  • Transitional Justice: concept and evolution
  • The Truth Commissions experience: a comparative analysis
  • Latin America as an international criminal justice “laboratory”: analysis of national Supreme Courts and tribunals decisions

Part III – The tensions and concerns of international criminal justice 

  • Analysis of some cases of the European Court of Human Rights and comparative analysis with judgments of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on criminal law matters (international crimes, victims’ rights, right to truth, right to justice)
  • Analysis of national decisions on the principle of legality; statutory limitations and amnesty prohibition


The compulsory syllabus and the reading list for both attending and non-attending students will be published on the Alma DL website.

Texts and materials of the cases discussed during the course will be also uploaded on the AlmaDL website, along with potential additional readings that will be identified during classes.

Teaching methods

The course will be held in lectures and additional seminars and activities to further analyse some topics and encourage students’ involvement. In the lectures, the syllabus will be systematically explained, together with the examination of the case law relevant to each topic.

Attending students will be encouraged to take part in the discussion and, individually or in small groups, carry on research and present their results during the lecture.

The teaching will be carried on using the comparative approach and the analysis of the domestic and international case law in order to provide practical examples of the main issues related to the protection afforded by international human rights and humanitarian law. This methodology allows the students to understand the bigger picture, consider the plurality of mechanisms – contentious or not – to redress and the importance of the legal, historical and political contexts.

The course requires students to actively participate in the classes, in order to develop critical thinking skills. Professionals and academics with extensive experience in international criminal justice will be invited to teach individual seminars or classes. Moreover, documentaries and movies may be employed to illustrate some of the most crucial aspects concerning the internationalisation of criminal law and justice.

Assessment methods

Non-attending students are required to submit 2 papers, each consisting of at least 6,000 words. The related topics and deadlines must be agreed upon with the lecturers.

Attending students:

The final exam consists of an individual take-home paper of at least 4,000 words and a maximum of 4,400 words on an International Criminal Justice topic of your choice among those indicated in class. In the alternative, students may combine an in-class individual or group presentation with a paper of at least of 2,000 words on the same topic of the presentation. Bibliography and footnotes are required but not included in the wordcount.

A list of topics will be indicated at the beginning of the course and students will be able to agree a date for their presentations before a prescribed date, in order to allow the lecturer to arrange the presentations schedule.

Both for the paper and the presentation, students are expected to autonomously present an exhaustive bibliography on the chosen topics. Online sources are allowed, as long as they do not include websites such as Wikipedia. The paper must indicate a list of all used bibliographic sources.

Papers will be e-mailed in docx. or doc format to the lecturer’s e-mail address at least 3 weeks before the final examination date, which will be communicated to the students during the course. The lecturer will only reply if the paper does not respect the prescribed parameters and requirements and therefore cannot be accepted (e.g., because it does not meet the minimum length requirement or due to a late submission). In case the paper meets all requirements and therefore it is accepted by the instructor, no e-mail response will be forwarded to the student. The student will come in person to the final examination to know the final evaluation outcome and decide whether to accept or refuse the final grade.

The final assessment will be based off of an overall evaluation, which will take into consideration both the paper and the presentation.

The lecturer reserves the right to adjust the grade to reflect active participation demonstrated during classes by the student.

Class attendance will be taken at each class. Students who collect five or more absences from class sessions shall not be allowed to sit the exam as attending students and will have instead to follow the instructions for non-attending students.

Students with disabilities or Specific Learning Disorders (DSA) can ask to the Professor adaptations for their specific needs.

Enrolment in the final exam shall be done through the online application form Almaesami (https://almaesami.unibo.it/almaesami/welcome.htm ).

Teaching tools

To facilitate the comprehension and learning of the syllabus, the course will be presented with the support of PowerPoint slides.

Students with disabilities or learning disabilities (DSA) who need additional support will be able to refer to the professor to discuss their needs and be directed to the relevant personnel and agree on specific assistance.

Guidance and support will be provided to students seeking internship opportunities at European and international institutions, such as international criminal courts and tribunals, European courts, the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, or NGOs.

Office hours

See the website of Emanuela Fronza


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This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.