Faculty Author Type

Current Faculty [James Stewart]

Published In

Journal of International Criminal Justice

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



War Crimes; Grave Breaches; Geneva Conventions; International Criminal Law


Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions are one type of war crime. In this Article, I argue that the grave breaches regime has three possible futures. In the first, the regime remains segregated from other categories of war crimes in deference to the historical development of these crimes. This future, however, is one that will see a relatively dramatic decline in the use of grave breaches in practice, primarily because other offences cover the same acts more efficiently. In the second possible future, the grave breaches are entirely abandoned, but this eventuality seems both improbable and undesirable. Even though judicial pragmatism has diminished aspects of the grave breaches regime that were once unique, grave breaches still offer important features over and above all alternatives. The grave breaches regime is therefore unlikely to disappear entirely. A third possible future involves assimilating the grave breaches with other categories of war crimes, ideally through the promulgation of a more coherent treaty regime. In the short term, this proposition appears politically untenable, leaving judges to unify the stark disparities between grave breaches and other war crimes. A future that continues to adopt this course will nonetheless pose serious problems for the discipline in the years to come. Over the longer term, a treaty creating a more comprehensive code governing all war crimes is therefore inevitable.

NOTE: The "Download" button above will provide access to a working draft, and the "Find in your Library" button below will provide access to the final published version.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.