Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Relations

First Advisor's Name

Harry Gould

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

John Oates

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Susanne Zwingel

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Hannibal Travis

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


International Criminal Law, Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, Worst Forms of Child Labor, Cultural Property

Date of Defense



The Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court labels the crimes within its jurisdiction as “the most serious crimes of international concern.” This characterization creates a hierarchy of international issues in which those that are under the jurisdiction of the court are portrayed as more important than those that are not. The Statute’s framing implies a permeance and absolutism to the distinction between international issues that obscures the political contestation behind this topic. The line between wrong and criminal in international law is one that is neither constant nor entirely coherent. It is one that has grown and changed over time in response to major international events and normative shifts.

My dissertation seeks to understand how the international community makes the distinction between what is a crime and what is merely wrong. To do so, I examine the narratives that surround the destruction of cultural and religious property, sexual and gender-based violence, and the worst forms of child labour. I draw these narratives from a plethora of international documents such as international court documents, international negotiations, and United Nations resolutions. Taken together, these three case studies are used to shed light on continuity and change within the “most serious crimes” as well as exclusion from this category. Through these three cases studies, three key discourses were discovered: the role of the government, the chronological relationship between harms done and the codification of new provisions, and the historical legal pedigree of the ideas. Depending on how these three discourses manifest themselves, two different narratives emerge. The first is one in which a rogue and uncivilized governing actor purposely causes suffering in order to harm some ideological, political, or military opposing force. In doing so, they engage in shocking and abnormal forms of violence, violating the old and sacred laws of the international community. The second tells of a benevolent government working with the international community to establish new protections to fight against commonplace suffering and to better society and humanity. The former lends itself to criminalization and the second lends itself to non-criminalized codification.






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