How international law makes violence legal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Some international law scholars have argued that international war law, rather than proscribing violence in war, has instead been a vehicle for its legitimation. Given that laws are constituted in and through language, this paper explores this paradox through register analysis of the text of the Rome Statute, an international treaty adopted in 1998 which established the International Criminal Court to prosecute the crimes of “genocide”, “crimes against humanity”, “war crimes” and “crimes of aggression”. The parameters of field, tenor and mode are considered in conjunction with a brief account of linguistic features of Article 8 of the Rome Statute, which defines the scope of the term “war crimes”. The linguistic patterns provide evidence that the Rome Statute simultaneously outlaws some acts of violence while affording legal cover for others, despite their well-known devastating human consequences. The analysis provides linguistic evidence for Malešević’s (2010) claim that at the heart of modernity lies an “ontological dissonance”, through which we criminalise some forms of violence while legitimating others.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-120
Number of pages30
JournalLanguage, Context and Text
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Halliday
  • Hasan
  • register
  • IHL
  • war law
  • Rome Statute
  • organised violence
  • Malešević
  • case study
  • violence
  • legality

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