Space is the ultimate frontier, and films such as The Guardians of the Galaxy give us a glimpse of what the future might hold for us. As exciting as it may be to imagine a universe where we can easily travel from Planet A to Planet Z in a matter of hours, it is also quite daunting to imagine all the potential conflicts that may also arise.
In The Guardians of the Galaxy, we are introduced to Gamora’s sister, Nebula. It is hard to feel any morsel of sympathy for her given that she tried to wipeout the entire Guardian team, and it is even harder to muster up those feelings when you consider that she also tried to take out an entire planet. For those of you that may not remember, she played a major part in trying to destroy Planet Xander, which is the home planet of the Xanderians and the capital of the Nova Empire, with a population close to 12 billion galactic beings. If you need another memory boost- it is also the planet that Ronan the Accuser attempted to destroy at the end of The Guardians of the Galaxy and again, was one of the planets that was nearly destroyed by Ego in The Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.
At this point, we should all have some recollection of Nebula’s unfortunate role in the attempted destruction of Xander. Some may even accuse her of attempted genocide and want her prosecuted. But, is she really guilty of attempted genocide?
Let’s take a look at the legal definition of genocide, which is defined by The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This international treaty was adopted by the United Nations shortly after World War II. Article 2 defines two elements of the crime of genocide: a mental component and a physical one:
1. The mental element, referring to the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group”, and
2. The physical element, which includes:
a. killing its members;
b. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
A crime must have both components to be called “genocide.”
So now that we have taken a look at the legal definition of genocide, can Nebula truly be tried for attempted genocide? The answer is probably no, especially when taking into account everything that we learned about her in The Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.
There is no doubt that when looking at the definition’s two required elements, Nebula likely meets the physical component quite easily. She did, after all, take part in a great deal of killing; however, the mental component was never truly there. What we have with Nebula is nothing more than a misunderstood individual who was never good enough in her father’s eyes and who, despite knowing that, still desperately sought his approval. What we learned about Nebula is that her father would make her and Gamora battle each other in training and every time Gamora won, their father would torture Nebula by replacing a piece of her with machinery with the reasoning being that he wanted them to be “equals.” Despite knowing this, Gamora never stopped beating Nebula, and Nebula never gained her father’s approval that she so desperately sought. This is further reinforced when Nebula states that after killing Gamora, she planned on buying a warship and intended to hunt her father down and kill him. Nebula’s anger stemmed from those childhood experiences that haunted her as an adult and is the exact reason she sought to kill her family.
However, it is also a crime to aid or abet genocide, per Article III of the convention. Criminal acts include conspiracy, direct and public incitement, attempts to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide. There is no denying that Nebula had some role in Ronan’s attempt at genocide- he never made it a secret to her. On the other hand, it is likely that she did not fully grasp the severity of her actions- after all, part of her brain had been replaced by her father after one of her many losses to Gamora. So, can we really blame Nebula for her actions? Despite knowing of Ronan’s plans, it is difficult to determine whether she truly knew the wrongfulness of her actions. Given her upbringing and the fact that part of her brain was not even hers, it may be completely plausible that Nebula could use a defense based on the absence of her mental health.
After the development of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the mental state of those accused of genocide has become an important issue over the last few years and is explicitly addressed in the court’s statutes. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (referred to as the “Rome Statute” because it was adopted in Rome in 1998) is the treaty that not only established the ICC, but it also establishes the court’s functions, jurisdiction, and structure. It addresses four core international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.
Taking a look at the rules that govern the court, Article 31 states:
“…a person shall not be criminally responsible if, at the time of that person’s conduct:
a. the person suffers from a mental disease or defect that destroys that person’s capacity to appreciate the unlawfulness or nature of his or her conduct, or capacity to control his or her conduct to conform to the requirements of law;”
So folks, I think it is safe to say that if Nebula were charged with any part of the attempted genocide of Xander, she would have a pretty good mental defect defense. Ultimately, Nebula lacks a true “mental state” to cause a genocide as her actions purely affirm her desire for redemption and closure…plus, part of her brain wasn’t even hers!