The Legacy of Nuremberg

The Legacy of Nuremberg

In 1945, the Nuremberg Tribunal was established to prosecute the leading military and political leaders of Nazi Germany. The Tribunal is a testament to the triumph of the rule of law in the struggle against tyranny and oppression. As noted by Justice Robert Jackson in his opening statement to the Tribunal, "[t]hat four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason."

The Nuremberg Tribunal was a watershed moment for international justice, setting a number of key precedents that underpin today's international justice system. Key concepts to emerge from Nuremberg include: that crimes are committed by individuals, not abstract entities, and therefore individuals must be held accountable to deter future crimes; that no one is above the law, and therefore no head of state or military leader can hide behind their title to commit abuses; that some crimes are so grave as to affect and endanger all of humankind, and therefore it is in the interests of all countries to ensure that those responsible are punished; and that, particularly in the aftermath of conflict, a trial based upon internationally recognized principles of fairness will be recognized as legitimate by all sides and create a historical record that will not be vulnerable to future revisionism, thereby laying the groundwork for lasting peace.

International Treaties

Since Nuremberg, international treaties such as the Genocide Convention, the Convention against Torture and the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC) have all addressed the need for international cooperation to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. When the U.N. adopted the Genocide Convention in 1948, it recognized the need to establish an international criminal court to prosecute the crime of genocide. Article 5 of the Genocide Convention provides that persons charged with genocide shall be tried by an international penal tribunal. The Convention against Torture (adopted in 1984) requires that a state party either prosecute alleged torturers who are found in its territory or extradite them to face trial elsewhere. The Rome Statute (adopted in 1998) represents the realization of one of the oldest items on the U.N. agenda, namely the establishment of a permanent international court to bring to justice those who commit grave violations of international law.