Skip to main content

Manifest Illegality and the ICC Superior Orders Defense: Schuldtheorie Mistake of Law Doctrine as an Article 33(1)(c) Panacea

Posted by on Saturday, December 20, 2014 in Notes, Vol. 47 No. 5, Volume 47, Volumes.

While the Anglo-American and international legal systems adhere to the rule that “a mistake of the law excuses no one,” German Schuldtheorie mistake of law doctrine provides for a mistake of law excuse if a defendant’s mistaken belief in the lawfulness of his conduct was unavoidable. In a distinct but increasingly overlapping area of law, domestic and international legal systems provide defenses for subordinates acting in obedience to superior orders. At the international level, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court allows defendants charged with war crimes to invoke the defense of superior orders if the command obeyed was not “manifestly unlawful,” a standard that has garnered substantial criticism. This Note argues that infusing the Rome Statute’s superior orders defense with the Schuldtheorie mistake of law doctrine as codified by Section 17 of the German Criminal Code would address criticisms of Article 33 by reconciling Article 33 with previously established customary international law and produce desirable results by encouraging reasonable, context-specific investigation into the legality of commands.

Leave a Response

ExpressO Top 10 Law Review


The Journal is pleased to announce its 2018-2019 Board of Editors. Complete-Masthead-2018-2019

Vanderbilt University Law School Professor Michael A. Newton’s 2016 VJTL Article entitled How the International Criminal Court Threatens Treaty Norms  was cited by the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s November 2017 filing seeking investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan.

May 2018 Issue on the Second Israel Defense Forces International Conference on the Law of Armed Conflict. Read more about the Journal’s May 2018 issue here.

Thank you to everyone who attended the Journal’s 50th Anniversary celebration on October 5, 2017! View photos from the event here and read about the Journal’s history here.

Connect with the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law on LinkedIn.

The Journal is pleased to listed as the #5 International Law Journal by the 2017 Washington and Lee Law Journal Rankings.

The Journal is very excited about the success of our February 2017 Symposium, “Sovereign Conduct on the Margins of the Law.” Read more about our February 2017 Symposium here

Please join us in congratulating the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 2017-2018 Write-On Competition Winners.

Video is available from the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law’s 2015-2016 SymposiumThis is Not a Drill: Confronting Legal Issues in the Wake of International Disasters. Watch here.