Chicago Journal of International Law


The purpose of this Comment is to address inconsistencies between judicial interpretations in the UN ad hoc tribunals as to the mens rea for accomplice liability of top state officials for genocide. The Comment will use, as a case study, a recent Zimbabwean land-seizure program to show that courts should apply a stricter, purpose-based standard, as opposed to a more expansive knowledge-based standard, to judge accomplice liability. Section I provides an overview of the Genocide Convention and recent cases involving the interpretation and development of the jurisprudence governing genocide. This jurisprudence, combined with the purpose, history, and various enforcement issues particular to the Genocide Convention, bears critically on the normative scope of accomplice liability. Section II describes the disastrous land redistribution program in Zimbabwe that could possibly give rise to liability for genocide under a knowledge-based regime. The government designed this program to give land to its supporters, but the program was also associated with racist rhetoric and attitudes, as government officials emphasized and antagonized the racial division between their black supporters and the mainly white landowners. Section III applies the Genocide Convention to this program, showing possible avenues for prosecuting top Zimbabwean officials and noting the two distinct applications of aiding and abetting liability. This section shows that a knowledge mens rea standard for accomplice liability would subject top party leaders to criminal liability for genocide, while a purpose standard would not. Section IV argues that the majority mens rea requirement for accomplice liability provides an overbroad application of the Convention, reigning in too much conduct, and that the stricter, minority requirement is more appropriate to achieve the objectives of the Genocide Convention.