Can an Individual Bring War Crimes Charges Against a World Leader?

Can a private citizen bring war crimes charges against a world leader in an international court, or can only governments?* I’m not talking about some crackpot with a handwritten motion, but a person with considerable financial backing who has retained the services of a high-powered law firm.

*Obviously, I have specific individuals in mind, but I don’t want this discussion to become a debate on the merits or advisability of such an action.

The leader has to be deposed first, and since only governments can depose other governments (even if they only become a government afterwords) it seems that only governments can initiate war crimes tribunals.

What about after the leader has left office? Also, I understand that the leader would also have to be extradited to actually stand trial, but whether the leader would actually be forced to stand trial is not what I’m asking.

The people who commit war crimes only leave office by dying, and the Hague is not a moot court.

It would depend on the law of the country where you’re trying to prosecute the leader or former leader.

For example, in Canada, this type of offence is set out in the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. Section 9 of that Act deals with the procedure for charging and trying a person for offences under the Act, and provides:

So in Canada, the answer is no, a private individual cannot charge a leader with war crimes or crimes against humanity - the federal Attorney General must personally consent to the charges being laid (i.e. - the Attorney General cannot delegate this decision to the Deputy Attorney General or individual Crown prosecutors), and only Crown counsel acting on behalf of the federal Attorney General can prosecute the offence.

For the purposes of this question, assume that the hypothetical world leader did relinquish his or her position and return to civilian life.

Thanks for the response. I want to make sure I understand it: A Canadian citizen could not bring war crimes charges against anyone of any nationality anywhere in the world.

The International Criminal Court has been established to be a standing international body to investigate and try various types of crimes against humanity.

While the Chief Prosecutor may receive information from the public or non-governmental organizations, he may only open a formal investigation under three circumstances: 1, he is directed by the UN Security Council; 2, a matter is referred to him by a state party to the ICC treaty, or 3, the Prosecutor presents a matter to a panel of judges and they approve his request.

An individual has no standing to demand that war crimes charges be brought by the ICC against an individual. In fact, the process was designed to prevent that from happening at all, because otherwise people with an axe to grind will just file endless charges on political figures as a form or harassment.

So what I’m saying is, the ICC was designed with the direct purpose to ignore your political views about unnamed world leaders.

There’s an activist in the UK called Peter Tatchell who’s always trying to pounce on certain leaders when they visit London and make a citizen’s arrest for war crimes, crimes against homosexuals in their countries, etc. Robert Mugabe was his last target. I believe he’s tried it abroad too. Never successfully, of course - I believe the UK has a similar law to Canada. Pinochet was served with a Spanish arrest warrant while he was visiting the UK, that one went all the way to the House of Lords, who refused ultimately to vacate the warrant. The Home Secretary eventually stopped the extradition proceedings and released him on health grounds.

It’s worth noting that international law is, by its very nature, ambiguous. Very little can be said to be explicitly codified, since there’s no overarching authority which can really enforce any of it. So, the answer to virtually all international law questions will end up being just as ambiguous.

And note that an individual can’t bring regular criminal charges against anyone either.

Sure, you can go to the cops and tell them that such and such a person committed such and such a crime. Then the cops will decide to investigate or not, and they’ll decide to arrest the suspect or not, and the DA will decide to prosecute the person or not.

You as a private individual have no power to charge any other person with theft, assault, mopery, dopery, or any criminal charge of any sort, let alone international war crimes charges.

Even if you personally witness and videotape George Bush–I mean “An un-named world leader”–throttling your grandmother to death with his bare hands, you still would not have the power to bring murder charges or any sort of criminal charges against George Bush.

Again, this depends on the law of the jurisdiction in question. This is not an accurate summary of the law in Canada, for example, where private prosecutions are still possible for Criminal Code offences.

Name a single piece of international law, whether written or customary, which, in its alleged ambiguity, could allow a private individual to commence a formal investigation or hearing on war crime charges.

Or are you just making things up? As in, saying that “very little” of international law is codified?

From a sheerly practical standpoint, no government in the world would be party to a law that allowed individuals to press changes against their leaders. They would need an endless bureaucracy just to deal with the thousands of charges that would result from every crazy in the world. They would have no time to do anything else.

It simply doesn’t matter whether international laws are codified to WoodenTaco’s satisfaction. The laws being referred to cannot exist.