International Criminal Law - Master

Postgraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content

The course concerns the contemporary international law framework for the prosecution of the most serious crimes, including the crime of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

International criminal law (ICL) is a sub-discipline of public international law, historically rooted in the international and national transitional justice cases (including the famous Nuremberg Trails) effected in the aftermath of World War II. The Charter of the United Nations (1945), the Nuremberg Principles (1946), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), jointly created a new paradigm of international law. The 1949 Geneva Conventions on rights and obligations towards society, civilians, and prisoners of war, during occupation and armed conflict, complemented this framework. In particular, the individual person was now seen as a subject for legal rights and criminal liability directly under international law. Apart from the Genocide Convention (1948), further ICLdevelopments were for several decades subdued by the Cold War. Since the establishment of the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals in 1993 and 1994 respectively, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998, ICL has developed immensely. Yet there are important methodological, institutional, and political constraints on the functioning and further developments of ICL.

The course revisits the history of international criminal courts, before discussing the institutional, normative, and political context of ICL. Emphasis is put on the special nature of the crimes in question. Do all these crimes have any common features? How do they differ from other crimes? Is ICL essentially limited to mass crimes committed by and through states and other organized power structures? Should e.g. terrorism, piracy and torture also become part of ICL, or does ICL only concern the so-called «core crimes», such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide? Why has it been so difficult to prosecute crimes of aggression since Nuremberg? What is the role of the legality principle in this field of law from the Nuremberg judgment to contemporary ICL?

After introducing such broader issues and perspectives the course moves on to a more detailed analysis of the substantive crime elements. It focuses specifically on the objective structures and the required mental element of the core universal crime categories: «the crime of aggression», «war crimes», «crimes against humanity» and «genocide». The course will also discuss different ways of perpetrating and participating in universal crimes, and hence the need for extended criminal liability through various legal «modes of participation». Personal and structural circumstances excluding liability will also be covered, as will the basic principles of fair trials in international criminal courts.

Since enforcement of criminal liability may take place in domestic jurisdictions, the course will also cover the legal principles of domestic jurisdiction applicable to universal crimes prosecution (territorial jurisdiction, nationality jurisdiction, etc.). The duty of a state to extradite offenders or prosecute such crimes, cooperation with the ICC, and possible limitations on domestic prosecution and trials (amnesties, statute of limitations, and immunities), is also included.

Students will be challenged to discuss and assess the potential and limitations of international criminal justice.

Learning Outcomes


The course provides for thorough knowledge of the basic features of international criminal law, its historical development, its key concepts, its current expression under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its current challenges. This includes thorough knowledge of the core universal crime categories: the crime of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.


- The ability to find and apply in a methodologically sound way the legal material needed to assess the conditions for criminal liability under international law;

- The ability to engage critically and reflectively with contemporary (doctrinal and theoretical) debates regarding ICL;

- The ability to write reasoned answers to legal and policy questions in the field of ICL.

- The ability to cooperate with law students from other countries, and gain perspectives on common legal challenges from students from a legal background different than their own,

- The ability to contribute with perspectives from their own country and legal background.

General competence

- Ability to communicate law both orally and in writing, in the English language.

- Ability to work independently as well as in groups.

- Ability to engage with students from other jurisdictions in fruitful discussions.

ECTS Credits


Level of Study

Master level

Semester of Instruction

Autumn semester. First time autumn 2024

Place of Instruction

Faculty of Law, University of Bergen
Required Previous Knowledge
Three years of law studies, including criminal law.
Recommended Previous Knowledge
Good level of English language
Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap

Combined with the former course JUS288-2-A International Criminal Law, this course will generate no new credits.

The course combines successfully with JUS2307 Introduction to European Human Rights Law, JUS2306 Fair Trials in Europe, JUS2313/JUS3513 Human Rights and Welfare Policies, JUS2318/JUS3518 Law of Armed Conflict, and JUS2311/JUS3511 International Climate Law

Access to the Course

The course is available for the following students:

  • Admitted to the five-year master programme in law
  • Admitted to the two-year master programme in law
  • Exchange students at the Faculty of Law

The pre-requirements may still limit certain students' access to the course

The number of students admitted to the course is limited to 64. 32 places are reserved for students from the Faculty's two-year and five-year master programme in law (MAJUR, MAJUR-2), while 32 places are reserved to international exchange students. The number of students in either category can be increased if there are less than 32 applicants in the other category.

If the number of applicants exceeds capacity, admission will be decided by way of lottery within each category.

Teaching and learning methods
Lectures and seminars
Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
Forms of Assessment

Four-hour digital school exam.

Information about digital examination can be found here:

Exam language:

  • Question paper: English
  • Answer paper: English
Grading Scale
A - E for passed, F for failed.
Assessment Semester
Reading List
The reading list will be ready 1 July for the autumn semester.
Course Evaluation
According to the administrative arrangements for course evaluation at the Faculty of Law
Examination Support Material

Support materials allowed during school exam

Compendium of Legal Texts for the course, supplied by the Faculty of Law.

Students may bring their own copy of a bilingual dictionary to/from English and any other language, in one or two volumes. For further info see section 3-9 of the Supplementary Regulations for Studies at the Faculty of Law at the University of Bergen.

Programme Committee
The Academic Affairs Committee (Studieutvalget) at the Faculty of Law is responsible for ensuring the material content, structure and quality of the course. 
Course Coordinator
Professor Terje Einarsen
Course Administrator
The Faculty of Law¿s section for students and academic affairs (Studieseksjonen) is responsible for administering the programme.