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International criminal tribunals have been entrusted with the judicial powers to hold natural persons individually criminally responsible, for the most serious international crimes, like genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes. Yet these international tribunals are limited in their investigative powers, and thus not capable of trying every single individual who took part in these international crimes. As a result, the international tribunals will have a strong focus on the ‘superiors’ of organized groups of individuals, like the military. This is where ‘the law of command responsibility’ will play a crucial role, as a legal tool for the international tribunals, to impose criminal liability on superiors, for the crimes of their subordinates.
Under international humanitarian law superiors will have a duty to ensure that their subordinates will comply with the rules of international humanitarian law in armed conflicts. Superiors will have this duty because of their position of command over, and their influence on, their subordinates.