Nuremberg Principles

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October 4, 2008

 

The Nuremberg Principles were a set of guidelines for determining what constitutes a war crime. The document was created by necessity during the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi party members following World War II.

Under UN General Assembly Resolution 177 (II), paragraph (a), the International Law Commission was directed to "formulate the principles of international law recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and in the judgment of the Tribunal." In the course of the consideration of this subject, the question arose as to whether or not the Commission should ascertain to what extent the principles contained in the Charter and judgment constituted principles of international law. The conclusion was that since the Nuremberg Principles had been affirmed by the General Assembly, the task entrusted to the Commission was not to express any appreciation of these principles as principles of international law but merely to formulate them. The text below was adopted by the Commission at its second session. The Report of the Commission also contains commentaries on the principles (see Yearbook of the Intemational Law Commission, 1950, Vol. II, pp. 374-378).[1]


Contents

 

The Principles

Principle I

Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment.

Principle II

The fact that internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law.

Principle III

The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.

Principle IV

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Principle V

Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on the facts and law.

Principle VI

The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:

(a) Crimes against peace:

(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;

(ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).

(b) War Crimes:

Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation of slave labor or for any other purpose of the civilian population of or in occupied territory; murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the Seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

(c) Crimes against humanity:

Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.

Principle VII

Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law.


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Successes and Failures in Preserving the Principles

Canada

Nuremberg Principle IV, and its reference to an individual’s responsibility, was at issue in Canada in the case of Hinzman v. Canada. Jeremy Hinzman was a U.S. Army deserter who claimed refugee status in Canada as a conscientious objector, one of many Iraq War resisters. Hinzman's lawyer, Jeffry House had previously raised the issue of the legality of the Iraq War as having a bearing on their case. The Federal Court ruling was released on March 31, 2006, and denied the refugee status claim.[2][3] In the decision, Justice Anne L. Mactavish addressed the issue of personal responsibility:

“An individual must be involved at the policy-making level to be culpable for a crime against peace ... the ordinary foot soldier is not expected to make his or her own personal assessment as to the legality of a conflict. Similarly, such an individual cannot be held criminally responsible for fighting in support of an illegal war, assuming that his or her personal war-time conduct is otherwise proper.”[4] [5]

On Nov 15, 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case on appeal, without giving reasons.[6]

See also

References

Further reading

Footnotes

  1. IRCR References Introduction
  2. Mernagh, M. (2006-05-18). "AWOL GIs Dealt Legal Blow". Toronto’s Now Magazine. Retrieved on 2008-06-02.
  3. "Hinzman v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) (F.C.), 2006 FC 420" (see Held, Para. (1)). Office of the Commisioner for Federal Judicial Affairs. Retrieved on 2008-06-16.
  4. Mernagh, M. (2006-05-18). "AWOL GIs Dealt Legal Blow". Toronto’s Now Magazine. Retrieved on 2008-06-02.
  5. Hinzman v. Canada Federal Court decision. Paras (157) and (158). Accessed 2008-06-18
  6. CBC News (2007-11-15). "Top court refuses to hear cases of U.S. deserters". CBC News. Retrieved on 2008-06-02.

 

 

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