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Disputation: Carola Lingaas

Carola Lingaas at the Department of Public and International Law will be defending the thesis The Concept of Race in International Criminal Law for the degree of Ph.D.

Carola Lingaas

Photo: UiO

Trial lecture - time and place

Adjudication committee

  • Professor Peter Scharff Smith, University of Oslo (leader)
  • Professor Alette Smeulers, University of Groningen (1. opponent)
  • Professor Caroline Fournet, University of Groningen (2. opponent)

Chair of defence

Vice Dean Alf Petter Høgberg



Race’: relic or useful concept?

The annihilation of Jews during the Holocaust, the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, – and more recently the persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar – are just a few examples of serious crimes that deeply shock the international community. These horrible events are often accompanied by the pledge “Never Again!” Sadly, however, atrocities happen time and again.

International law defines who is protected from such crimes and, conversely, who can be punished for committing them. Members of racial groups are protected under international law against genocide, persecution, and apartheid. But what is race? In 2017, is it legitimate to talk about race – or is race perhaps better stowed away as a relic? And why was this contentious term not even discussed when the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was drafted?

The Nazis defined the Jews as a race inferior to the Aryan race, the Khmer Rouge identified the ‘new people’ as enemies with a biologically dissimilar essence, and in Darfur (Sudan), the Janjaweed militia labelled their enemies derogatorily as ‘Zourga’, or black Africans. Although natural sciences have long determined that humankind cannot be meaningfully divided into biologically different races, the social significance of race remains high. Rather than attempting to objectively construct distinct racial groups, Carola Lingaas’ PhD dissertation suggests that judges in international criminal trials should consider perpetrators’ inner thoughts. Their mind-sets will determine the protected racial group.

Besides the strong legal component, Carola Lingaas’ dissertation entitled ‘The Concept of Race in International Criminal Law’ incorporates in its analysis cutting-edge social sciences research, according to which most cases of mass violence are preceded by so-called ‘othering’. In this process, the victim group is presented as innately and therefore immutably different, inferior, and at the same time a threat. A dichotomy between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is created, forming an abyss, forcing individuals to take side. The marginalized ‘other’ group can, notably, be an imagined identity, entirely dependent on the perpetrator’s perceptions.

In its conclusion, Carola Lingaas’ study suggests that race in international criminal law should be constructed based upon the perpetrator’s mind. The perpetrator’s (objectively) observable demeaning and dehumanizing behavior reveals his understanding of the victims. If the perpetrator perceives his victims as members of a different (and, typically, an inferior) racial group and manifests this understanding through his behavior, he can be found guilty for committing an international crime against a racial group.


Published Oct. 25, 2017 2:47 PM - Last modified Oct. 31, 2017 1:38 PM