Superior orders

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As a legal defense against war crime charges, the doctrine of superior orders holds that an individual cannot be held responsible for actions that were ordered by a superior officer. The doctrine was generally rejected by the Nuremberg Trials, but has been challenged since.

Article 8 of the Nuremberg Charter states " "The fact that the defendant acted pursuant to an order of his Government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility, but may be considered in mitigation of punishment, if the Tribunal determines that justice so requires."[1]

In the statute authorizing the International Criminal Court, Article 33 reads :

  • 1 The fact that a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court has been committed by a person pursuant to an order of a Government or of a superior, whether military or civilian, shall not relieve that person of criminal responsibility unless :
    • (a) The person was under a legal obligation to obey orders of the Government or the superior in question ;
    • (b) The person did not know that the order was unlawful ; and
    • (c) The order was not manifestly unlawful.
  • 2. For the purposes of this article, orders to commit genocide or crimes against humanity are manifestly unlawful.”[2]