Journal Article

Duress, International Criminal Law and Literature

Illan Rua Wall

in Journal of International Criminal Justice

Volume 4, issue 4, pages 724-744
Published in print September 2006 | ISSN: 1478-1387
Published online September 2006 | e-ISSN: 1478-1395 | DOI:
Duress, International Criminal Law and Literature

Show Summary Details


This paper uses parallels between Sophocles’ Theban Plays and the House of Lords decision in Dudley and Stephens, to question the decision in the Erdemović case before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. One should distinguish between causal, moral and criminal responsibility. If a man who commits a crime, not by the action of his free will, is to be found guilty, we are essentially equating causal responsibility with criminal guilt. This logic clearly does not correspond with that of the rest of international criminal law. The stories of Erdemović, Oedipus, Dudley and Stephens are tragedies. Each of the victims/perpetrators felt an overwhelming sense of remorse. Whether they should be considered morally guilty of murder is a matter of individual conscience. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia majority erred in using an absolute moral position in Erdemović. The majority's moral condemnation of the killing of innocents was confused with the question of whether Erdemović should have been criminally punished. The content of the majority opinion is largely of an irreproachably moralistic nature, though shrouded and mystified by the discussion of precedent. More generally, the decision to try Erdemović at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was itself self-defeating. Erdemović should never have stood trial at The Hague. The international community should not aid in self-flagellation. While his actions cannot be approved of, they should not be punished internationally. He could have been helped, supported and reintegrated with far greater benefit to all.

        ‘Heroes are hard to find in an atmosphere of total terror.’1

Journal Article.  9471 words. 

Subjects: Criminal Law ; International Law

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.