Dealing with the past: Exploring new pathways of accountability for colonial-era atrocities

Project summary

The project will be based on an existing body of interdisciplinary work, focusing on law and history (Bachmann, Kemp et al, 2019; 2021) which deals with historical and legal analyses of colonial-era atrocity crimes (with a focus on Africa). It is assumed that current international criminal modalities lack the temporal, personal, and material jurisdictional reach to deal with the colonial past. The project will build on existing work and will provide opportunities for collaboration with national and international experts in history, international criminal law, transitional justice, and human rights law.

For the past five years, Professor Kemp has been a part of a multidisciplinary cohort of researchers (law, history, political science) who focused on the institutional, policy, legal, and transformational impact of international criminal tribunals (ICTs). It is clear that a narrow focus on the jurisdictional reach of ICTs is not the answer to the question how best to deal with the colonial past and in particular the question of accountability for colonial-era atrocities. Even the creation of ad hoc specialised tribunals may encounter insurmountable legal and practical problems.

The work by Professor Kemp and the historian Bachmann, on historical-legal analyses of colonial-era atrocities, aim to fill the accountability gap by using historical-legal studies (based on archival work and in-depth legal analyses) to build historically and legally sound arguments for consideration in reparations discussions at the diplomatic level, while contributing to the body of knowledge (historical, doctrinal, normative) regarding colonialism and the enduring impact thereof.

PhD students with a background in either law or history, and who are willing to work in multidisciplinary research teams, will benefit from the expertise, existing outputs, and emerging multidisciplinary and transnational networks proposed in this project.

Entry requirements

Applicants will need either a first class or upper second class honours degree in relevant subjects including international (criminal) law, international relations, political science, history, and anthropology.

International students may also need to meet our English language requirements. Find out more about our entry requirements for international students.

Project specific requirements must align with the University’s standard requirements

How to apply

Please contact Professor Gerhard Kemp ( in the first instance.

The University has four starting points each year for MPhil/PhD programmes (September, January, March and June). Applications should be made at least three months before you would want to start your programme. Please note that if you require a visa additional time will be required.


Self-funded by student. There is a range of options that may be available to you to help you fund your PhD.


Gerhard standing and smiling in front of a bookcase
Professor of International and Transnational Criminal Justice, FRSA

Gerhard Kemp, FRSA, is a professor of law and specialises in international and transnational criminal justice, comparative criminal law, international humanitarian law, and transitional justice. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts, London, an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow, Germany, and a former Senior Research Fellow of the Robert Bosch Stiftung in Berlin, Germany.