Introduction to International Criminal Law

November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Juliet Sorensen was responsible for prosecuting war criminal Jean-Marie Vianney Mudahinyuka, one of the leaders of the Rwandan genocide. Below, she gives a brief introduction to the history of international criminal law.

In contrast to general international law, which mainly concerns the interactions of nations and states, international criminal law primarily involves the actions of individuals.

Although some foreshadowing of international criminal law can be found before the twentieth century, the birth of the field is more properly traced to the Treaty of Versailles, drafted following the end of the First World War. One of the stipulations of the treaty was that an international tribunal be set up to try high-level members of the German government, including Kaiser Wilhelm II.

After the Second World War, another international tribunal was instigated. In this case, however, the tribunal considered not only war crimes but also crimes against humanity. Called the Nuremberg Tribunal, this organization operated from 1945 until 1946. A similar tribunal was set up for Japanese war crimes, which ran from 1946 to 1948.

Since that time, other international tribunals have been established for major wars or instances of genocide. Eventually, the case was made for the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC), first drafted in 1993 but not operational until 2002. The mandate of the Court is to prosecute crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression, war crimes, and genocide. In order for the Court to have jurisdiction over a situation, the country involved must sign and ratify a treaty named the Rome Statute or the alleged perpetrator must be its national, or by referral of the UN Security Council (as in the situations in Darfur and Libya).

The following video discusses the first trial conducted by the International Criminal Court. In 2009, the Court prosecuted Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, accused of conscripting child soldiers into his Congolese militia.

[Lubanga case: trial, closure of prosecution case, 15.07.09]

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