War Crimes Law Comes of Age: Essays

By Theodor Meron | Go to book overview

XIII
International Criminalization of Internal Atrocities*

For half a century, the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials and national prosecutions of World War II cases remained the major instances of criminal prosecution of offenders against fundamental norms of international humanitarian law. The heinous activities of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and the use of poison gas by Iraq against its Kurdish population are among the many atrocities left unpunished by either international or national courts. Some treaties were adopted that provide for national prosecution of offenses of international concern and, in many cases, for universal jurisdiction; but, with a few exceptions, these treaties were not observed. Notwithstanding the absence of significant prosecutions, an international consensus on the legitimacy of the Nuremberg Principles, the applicability of universal jurisdiction to international crimes, and the need to punish those responsible for egregious violations of international humanitarian law slowly solidified. The International Law Commission, veterans of the Nuremberg and Tokyo proceedings, individuals such as Rafael Lemkin (who advocated the adoption of the Genocide Convention) and a handful of academics (most notably M. Cherif Bassiouni), among others, helped keep alive the heritage of Nuremberg and the promise of future prosecutions of serious violators of international humanitarian law.

Recent atrocities in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda shocked the conscience of people everywhere, triggering, within a short span of time, several major legal developments: the promulgation by the Security Council, acting under chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, of the Statutes of the international criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the adoption by the International Law Commission of a treaty-based statute for an international criminal court. These developments warrant a fresh examination of the present state and future direction of the criminal aspects of international humanitarian law applicable to noninternational armed conflicts, conflicts that occur with far greater frequency than international armed conflicts.

____________________
*
I should like to express my thanks to Professors George Aldrich, Georges Abi-Saab, Antonio Cassese and Andreas Lowenfeld for their suggestions and, in particular, to Luigi Condorelli for his very important contribution.

-228-

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