All Roads Lead to Rome: Combating Impunity for Perpetration of Slave Trade and Slavery Crimes

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Journal of Human Trafficking, Enslavement and Conflict-Related Sexual Violence


The Republic of Sierra Leone has proposed amendments to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to include, inter alia, provisions for the slave trade as a crime against humanity and has recommended that the General Assembly include the slave trade as an enumerated crime in the Draft articles on Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Humanity (CAH) (Draft articles). This declaration came nearly five years after Cardozo’s Benjamin B Ferencz Human Rights and Atrocity Prevention Clinic, on behalf of slavery crimes expert Patricia Viseur Sellers, sent commentaries to the United Nations International Law Commission (ILC) to revise in a similar fashion the Draft articles.

The Rome Statute creates a wide impunity gap by omitting the slave trade entirely as a war crime and crime against humanity and by including only those conflict-related slavery acts that include causing someone to engage in an act of a sexual nature. Specifically, the Rome Statute does not enumerate the slave trade or slavery under Article 8 as war crimes. It does not define the slave trade within the crime of enslavement under Article 7(g) as a crime against humanity or explicitly enumerate the slave trade within the context of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population. War crimes conduct is not captured fully or explicitly under ICC jurisdiction because the Rome Statute sanctions only persons exercising powers attaching to the rights of ownership who also cause that person to engage in an act of a sexual nature. Crimes against humanity conduct also escapes legal sanction when perpetrators transport or otherwise engage in any slave trade acts without exercising powers attaching to the right of ownership over a person.

Furthermore, the Rome Statute’s bifurcation of enslavement and sexual slavery lead to non-factual, incomplete, and discriminatory results. Sexual slavery is enslavement; its separate enumeration as a crime against humanity has required some victims to prove additionally that they were caused to engage in an act of a sexual nature in violation of non-discrimination and others’ slavery harms to escape legal characterization altogether.

Sierra Leone’s proposals to amend the Rome Statute and CAH Draft articles to enumerate, inter alia, the slave trade as a crime against humanity will go a long way in closing the impunity gaps in international law for slavery and slave trade crimes’ perpetration. Such amendments will bring the Rome Statute and CAH Draft articles in line with customary international law regarding the slave trade, which is currently ‘missing in action’ in international criminal law adjudication and redress.




Paris Legal Publishers


Human Rights Law | Law