The Nuremberg Principles

The Nuremberg Principles are a set of international guidelines that constitute what a war crime is. The document was compiled during the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi Party members after the Second World War.

Principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal, 1950

Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal. Adopted by the International Law Commission of the United Nations, 1950.

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 Vl

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 to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or illtreatment of prisoners of war, of 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 inhuman 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 Principles VI is a crime under international law.

Authentic text: English Text published in Report of the International Law Commission Covering its Second Session, 5 June-29 July 1950, Document A/1316, pp. 11-14.

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Which is all interesting from an academic point of view. My point, and the reason I’ve drafted this post is a comment made by Justice Robert Jackson, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials:

“The very essence of the Nuremberg charter is that individuals have international duties which transcend national obligations of obedience imposed by the state.”

Check back soon for posts relating to how individuals have, are, and can fulfill those international duties.