Recent judgments of the Special Court for Sierra Leone comprise the most significant judicial consideration of collective punishment by an international court since the trials conducted after the Second World War. The Special Court’s conviction of several individuals for the war crime of collective punishment are the first of their kind, although at times the judgments involved strained judicial reasoning on the meaning, scope and rationale of the war crime of collective punishment. In considering the status of collective punishment as an international crime, the author draws on the Special Court’s jurisprudence and explores the customary and conventional law basis of the war crime of collective punishment and the challenge of defining the elements of such a crime. The omission of the war crime of collective punishment from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court questions the place of the offence in contemporary international criminal law, particularly in light of the possibility that underlying acts might be adequately addressed by other established war crimes.
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