The United Nations and the
New Legal Order of the World
The establishment of the United Nations Organization in 1945 was the central act of recognition by the war-surviving generation that something striking had to be done to avoid the recurrence of such disasters. It at once became the popular sign and symbol, for such people as could raise their vision and ideas above merely local considerations, that something actually was being done, whether within the UN or, as was the case with much of what follows below, at one or two removes from it.
The law of the Charter was the hub of the international community's post-war reconstruction of its legal apparatus. Whether in restatements of classic principles (e.g. States' sovereignty in domestic jurisdiction) or assertions of new ones (e.g. prohibition of all but defensive self-help by States), the UN Charter at once became the authoritative statement of law for the conduct of international relations, at the same time as it authorized the establishment of all the new organs which were to assist them.
At a certain remove from it was the law of war. Already centuries-old, it would have continued to serve the community whether the UN had been born or not. Optimists about the new order tended not to like the thought pressed on them by the more pessimistic that the new order was unlikely to make so clean a break with the past as to rob this branch of international law of its traditional usefulness. They made no difficulty, however, about using it to support the prosecution of the men who had brought the old order to its terrible close. Old-style 'war crimes' figured in the Nuremberg and Tokyo indictments equally with new-style 'crimes against peace' and 'crimes against humanity'.
'Crimes against humanity' were a canny, cautious half-way house to human rights. They were so to speak invented (in fact distilled, like human rights proper, from a confluence of cultural streams) in order to make possible the prosecution of Axis leaders for the dreadful things they had done distant from battle-fronts and in time of peace as well as war; crimes which the traditional law of war could by no means be stretched to cover. So far, the description would just as well fit crimes against human rights, plans for the protection of which were beginning to be canvassed during the same years as witnessed the drafting of the Nuremberg indictment. Human