New Earth lawyer
New Earth lawyer
Aug 11, 2021
Geraldine Johns-Putra - The Nuremberg Trials and international criminal law | S1 E28
Play • 19 min

I talk about the Nuremberg Trials that occurred in the aftermath of World War II, because I'm hearing a lot of mention of Nuremberg these days. 

I explain what they were and the consequences of Nuremberg on the development of international criminal law, especially the first trial which tried the Nazi leaders before an international military tribunal.  I also answer the question of whether we might see another Nuremberg style trial today and why I don't think we have conditions that make this realistic right now.

Show notes:

​[0:32] The Nuremberg Trials were held in the aftermath of World War II in Nuremberg, Germany seek justice against those who had perpetrated the worst atrocities during the total war that ravaged Europe.

[1:29] The most important Nuremberg Trial was the first one where the Nazi leadership was brought to account before an International Military Tribunal presided over by the four victorious Allied forces: the United States, Britain, Soviet Union, and France. Twelve other trials followed which included the Doctors' trial (for Nazi physicians) and the Judges' trial (for judges and lawyers who advanced the racial purity program).

[3:33] The legal framework for the Nuremberg trials came out of the instrument of surrender that Germany had signed and from the law of war.

[5:02] The Nuremberg Charter created three categories of crimes, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. 

[7:18] The first Nuremberg Trial is that it led to the development of international criminal law.  This is the intersection of international law - which regulates nation-States' conduct - and criminal law - which seeks to make accountable the individuals and organisations responsible for criminal actions.

[8:26] Secondly, the Nuremberg Trials led to an understanding that individual rights need protection from government actions, which led to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[9:12] Thirdly, crimes against humanity such as genocide can be conducted during war time or peace time.

[9:43] Fourthly, with Nuremberg, we developed an understanding of when international criminal law is appropriate to punish crimes - these are usually large scale, atrocious crimes where we can apply the broad brush of international criminal law and still achieve justice. 

[11:34] Fifthly, important principles from Nuremberg included that acting in an official position is no defence, that an action may not be a crime under a national legal system but can be illegal under international law  and that obeying superior orders if not always a defence. 

[12:59] Would we see another Nuremberg style trial today? With these tribunals, there's always a prior, almost universal agreement that something really terrible has happened. There is no public consensus today that a large-scale evil has occurred so I don't see this happening.

[15:33] With a Nuremberg style trial, the international community must agree on an authority to carry out the proceedings, such as the Nuremberg's victorious Allied forces, a UN Security Council resolution or an international treaty.

[17:21] Finally a Nuremberg style trial cannot happen in secret if we want a proper appreciation of whatever evil has occurred that deserves such a trial. Moreover, justice cannot be served if delivered in secret.

For more, please visit the episode page on the New Earth lawyer website.

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