29 November 2023

CMS professor gets special role in war crimes investigations


Kevin Jon Heller, Professor at the Centre for Military Studies in the Department of Political Science, has been appointed Special Adviser on War Crimes to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The International Criminal Court . Photo: jbdodane, Flickr

The four Special Adviser positions for the core crimes (War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide, and Aggression) are considered to be among the most important at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Kevin Jon Heller is the second person in the history of the Court to be appointed Special Adviser on War Crimes.

"Professionally, the position gives me a unique opportunity to participate in the work of the only permanent international criminal court ever established. The ICC investigates some of the most brutal conflict situations around the world - Ukraine, Palestine, Afghanistan, Darfur, Libya," he mentions, and then elaborates:

"A significant number of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide have been and continue to be committed in these situations. The Office of the Prosecutor cannot bring justice to all the victims of these crimes, but it can bring justice to some of them. Being Special Adviser means I can use my legal expertise to help advance this important work."

Has the utmost respect for the Prosecutor

Personally, Kevin Jon Heller will have the opportunity to advise a prosecutor for whom he has the utmost respect: Karim Khan KC.

"I have known the Prosecutor for almost 15 years, since we both worked as defence lawyers at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. I taught his son criminal law when I was a professor at SOAS, University of London, and then I was a consultant for UNITAD - the UN Investigation Team for Accountability for Da'esh/ISIL - while the Prosecutor was the head of the team," says Kevin Jon Heller. He continues:

"He is an incredible lawyer and an even better human being – the right person for the position in one of the ICC's most challenging times. I was delighted when he was elected and deeply honoured when he asked me to become one of his special advisors."

Ukraine - a wake-up call

According to Kevin Jon Heller, war crimes are a part of almost every armed conflict, regardless of who is involved.

"What's most striking about the current situation is that international lawyers like me have spent the last few decades focusing primarily on non-international armed conflicts – those fought between a state and a rebel or terrorist group, like Uganda's struggle with the Lord's Resistance Army or Mali's efforts to contain Ansar Eddine," he says.

However, Kevin Jon Heller describes Russia's invasion of Ukraine as something of a wake-up call.

"The invasion reminded us that international armed conflicts – those fought between two states – are anything but obsolete and have catastrophic consequences for civilians and for the soldiers who are injured and killed in them," he says.

When climate and environment are used in war

There are aspects of his work as a Special Adviser that Kevin Jon Heller cannot discuss. However, he does mention two public projects that he is particularly proud of:

"The first, which took place when I was a Special Adviser with a narrower portfolio, was to prepare a long memo with two other Special Advisers explaining why the Taliban has committed crimes against humanity of gender-based persecution by systematically denying Afghan women and girls their right to an education. We hope that the memo will lead to actual prosecutions," he says.

The second project Kevin Jon Heller mentions is helping the Prosecutor prepare a new policy paper on the prosecution of environmental crimes.

"My contribution focuses on what specific war crimes and crimes against humanity can be committed by means of or that result in environmental damage. This is a very exciting initiative, and it couldn't be more timely given the obvious problems caused by human-made climate change," he states.


Kevin Jon Heller
Professor, Center for Military Studies, Department of Political Science
Mail: kevinheller@ifs.ku.dk
Phone: +45 35 33 31 91

Simon Knokgaard Halskov
Press and communications officer
Mail: sih@samf.ku.dk 
Phone: +45 93 56 53 29


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