The Nuremberg Principles of War

Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality Topics: Crime And Justice, Morality Views: 3591

In November 1945, Robert H. Jackson stepped before the international tribunal at Nuremberg to open the prosecution of the Nazi leaders charged with war crimes. As America's advocate, as the prosecutor chosen to begin the case against these men, Robert H. Jackson was a pioneer bent on extending the frontiers of international law and justice. He had already played a major role in setting up the international court. For months in London he had met with representatives of Russia, France and Great Britain and had been the moving spirit in writing the four-power Agreement and Charter that established the court and governed its procedure. In spite of the different legal systems of the four negotiating countries, Jackson had found with satisfaction that there was much common ground and little significant differences in their concepts of justice.

Following is his statement on the War Trials Agreement; August 12, 1945.


There are some things I would like to say, particularly to the American people, about the agreement we have just signed.

For the first time, four of the most powerful nations have agreed not only upon the principles of liability for war crimes of persecution, but also upon the principle of individual responsibility for the crime of attacking the international peace.

Repeatedly, nations have united in abstract declarations that the launching of aggressive war is illegal. They have condemned it by treaty. But now we have the concrete application of these abstractions in a way which ought to make clear to the world that those who lead their nations into aggressive war face individual accountability for such acts.

The definitions under which we will try the Germans are general definitions. They impose liability upon war-making statesmen of all countries alike. If we can cultivate in the world the idea that aggressive war-making is the way to the prisoner's dock rather than the way to honors, we will have accomplished something toward making the peace more secure.

This, too, is the first time that four nations with such different legal systems have tried to knit their ideas of just criminal procedure into a cooperative trial. That task is far more difficult than those unfamiliar with the differences between continental and Anglo-American methods would expect. It has involved frank and critical examination by the representatives of each country of the other's methods of administering justice. Our discussions have been candid and open-minded.

The representatives of the United Kingdom have been headed by the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney General. The Soviet Republic has been represented by the Vice President of its Supreme Court and by one of the leading scholars of Soviet jurisprudence. The Provisional Government of France has sent a judge of its highest court and a professor most competent in its jurisprudence.

It would not be a happy forecast for the future harmony of the world if I could not agree with such representatives of the world's leading systems of administering justice on a common procedure for trial of war criminals.

Of course, one price of such international cooperation is mutual concession. Much to which American lawyers would be accustomed is missing in this instrument. I have not seen fit to insist that these prisoners have the benefit of all of the protections which our legal and constitutional system throws around defendants.

To the Russian and French jurist, our system seems unduly tender of defendants and to be loaded in favor of delay and in favor of the individual against the state. To us, their system seems summary and to load the procedure in favor of the state against the individual.

However, the continental system is the one the Germans themselves have employed and understand. It does not seem inappropriate that a special military commission for the trial of Europeans in Europe, for crimes committed in Europe, should follow rather largely although not entirely the European procedures. The essentials of a fair trial have been assured.

Another price of international cooperation is slow motion. No doubt Russia acting alone, or the United States, or any one country acting alone, could try these defendants in much shorter time than we can do it when we consult with each other and move along together. Our associates, for example, have a claim as good as ours to have the trial proceed in a language which they understand.

This requires a trial rendered into four languages-German, Russian, French, and English. This will be a dreary business, and there is no use trying to dodge that fact. It is a tedious prospect for me and for representatives of all the governments which will engage in it.

But I do not think the world will be poorer even if it takes a month or so, more or less, to try these men who now are prisoners and whose capacity for harm already has been overcome.

I do think the world would be infinitely poorer if we were to confess that the nations which now dominate the western world hold ideas of justice so irreconcilable that no common procedure could be devised or carried out.

The danger, so far as the moral judgment of the world is concerned, which will beset these trials is that they come to be regarded as merely political trials in which the victor wreaks vengeance upon the vanquished. However unfortunate it may be, there seems no way of doing anything about the crimes against the peace and against humanity except that the victors judge the vanquished.

Experience has taught that we can hardly expect them to try each other. The scale of their attack leaves no neutrals in the world. We must summon all that we have of dispassionate judgment to the task of patiently and fairly presenting the record of these evil deeds in these trials.

We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it. And we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a trial of the causes of the war, for our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy.

I therefore want to make clear to the American people that we have taken an important step forward in this instrument in fixing individual responsibility of war-mongering, among whatever peoples, as an international crime. We have taken another in recognizing an international accountability for persecutions, exterminations, and crimes against humanity when associated with attacks on the peace of the international order.

But I want to be equally clear that to make these advances fully effective through international trials is a task of difficulty and one which will require some public patience and some understanding of the wide gulf which separates the judicial systems of the nations which are trying to cooperate in the effort.


About Justice Jackson.

Source: United States Department of State Bulletin. August 12, 1945
Washington, DC : Government Printing Office, 1945
The Avalon Project at Yale Law School


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  22 Comments   Comment

  1. Amin from USA

    John,

    and since when was there ever a record of a natio named Israel other than in the bible? How long ago was this...

    Do you not recall that Jews and arabs were both trying to create a new soveriegnty before 47?

    As far as if America is the Agressor currently I say Saddam agreed to a cease fire based on certain principles. He has broken these and now he will pay.

  2. Solomon Weiskop

    to John: You say that Israel was "carved out of Arab land". The fact is that Israel has been the cultural, religious, political, and national homeland of the Jewish people for over 3000 years. Jerusalem was already the ancient millennia-old Jewish capital and Holy City at a time when London was an empty marsh, and Mohammed had not yet been born.

    To get an idea of how much "carving" is involved, I invite readers to go to http://www.iris.org.il/sizemaps.htm. There you can see how small Israel is compared to the rest of the Muslim/Arab Middle East. Israel is the little blue speck on those maps. It constitutes much less than 1% of the Middle East.

    Since the Arab inhabitants of "Palestine" differed in no significant way from their Arab neighbors in the rest of the Middle East, it certainly seems reasonable to give 0.3% of the Middle East to the Jews, while leaving the remaining 99.7% for the Arabs/Muslims.

    Because the Arabs absolutely refused to allow the Jews even to live in peace in this meagre 0.3%, there have been never-ending warfare, violence, terrorism, and human suffering.

  3. Solomon Weiskop

    to John: It is a matter of plain historical record that the Palestinians formally rejected the UN Partition of 1947 and refused the Arab state it would have given them. This behavior was actually part of a pattern. The Palestinians refused similar offers in 1939 and 2000 also.

    It is a matter of historical record that the Jews formally accepted the UN Partition Plan of 1947 and agreed to establish the state of Israel. By attacking Israel, the Arab states were engaging in an illegal aggressive war intended to eradicate a UN nation! They therefore are responsible for the consequences of their illegal action.

    If, as you claim, the Arab states were drawn into war against Israel in 1948 out of their concern for Palestinians ("it was Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians that spurred the Arab attack of 1948"), how do you explain the fact that Jordan grabbed the West Bank during that war, and Egypt grabbed the Gaza Strip. Both Jordan and Egypt refused to give up their conquered land to the Palestinians to build a state. They each held onto their conquered territories for 20 years (until 1967) without making any effort whatsoever to establish a Palestinian Arab state.

    It is also a matter of historical record that no "sovereign state of Palestine" ever existed. Even the name "Palestine" wasn't used prior to the British. During the Ottoman period, "Palestine" was just a province of the Ottoman Empire (it wasn't called "Palestine" then). It had no distinctive culture, no distinctive identity, no distinctive language, no distinctive religion whatsoever. It was simply part of the larger Arab world, and the Arabs living there saw themselves as simply Arabs. They had no distinct "Palestinian" identity and never even heard of or used the word "Palestinian". The earliest use of the term "Palestinian" to refer to Arabs living between Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea was well into the 20th century.

  4. Raqib Wasi Jafar from USA

    TO THINK ABOUT THE CONSEQENCES OF INITIATING A WAR HAS NEVER BEEN SOMETHING THE AMERICAN PEOPLE HAVE HAD TO THINK ABOUT. OUR GOVERNMENT HAS DUPED THE PEOPLE, AS HITLER HAD DONE TO HIS. WE SHOULD OPEN OUR EYES AS A PEOPLE AND AS HUMAN BEINGS, CHILDREN OF THE MOST HIGH.

    MY REMARKS ARE NOT TO HARM ANYONE, BUT TO ASK THE PEOPLE OF OUR COUNTRY TO LOOK THROUGH EYES OTHER THAN THAT OF AN AMERICAN. IF YOU WERE IN THE SHOES OF THE FRENCH, RUSSIAN, AND EVEN CHINA HAVE ECONOMIC REASONS NOT TO HAVE WAR. YET WE, ARROGANTLY LOAD AN AMOUNT OF TROOPS(True Rulers Of Oppressed People) AS VIETNAM. THIS WAR CAN ONLY BRING MISERY, AND DEATH, AS ALL WARS.

    PEACE

  5. John from USA

    To Solomon Weiskop

    "In the real world, there is absolutely no historical record of a "sovereign nation of Palestine". There never was such a thing."

    Palestine as an area existed for hundreds of years under the Ottoman Empire. Like Palestine, most countries today did not exist as separate entities, but were regions of various empires. To justify the stealing of Palestinian land and the ethnic cleansing that followed by saying that Palestine never existed as a state is ridiculous.

    Also, the Zionists had no intention of stopping at the 1948 border. The Palestinians did not refuse a state in 1948. They were attacked by Zionist gangs and driven out of their side of the partition soon before partition was to have taken place. It was Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians that spurred the Arab attack of 1948.

    David Ben-Gurion said in 1938 "after we become a strong force, as a result of the creation of a state, we shall abolish partition and expand into the whole of Palestine"

    Menachem Begin said in 1948: "The partition of the Homeland is illegal. It will never be recognized. The signature of institutions and individuals of the partition agreement is invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people. Jerusalem was and will forever be our capital. Eretz Israel (the land of Israel) will be restored to the people of Israel, All of it. And forever."

    The sad thing is Europeans persecuted Jews for centuries and then "generously" handed the Jews a state carved out of Arab land. The Palestinians are paying the price for something they were in no way responsible for. And then rightwing Jews like yourself have the audacity to condemn them. A little compassion for their terrible condition wouldn't hurt.

  6. Raqib Wasi Jafar from USA

    I AM TRULY UPSET AT THE VERY UNDIPLOMATIC MANNER OUR GOVERNMENT HAS INITIATED THIS TRULY UNJUST WAR. EVEN MORE SO I AM UPSET THAT THE GENERAL POPULATION OF OUR COUNTRY DOES NOT UNDERSTAND FULLY, THE TRUTH OF WAR. IT IS DEATH AND HUMAN SUFFERING. WAR IN ITSELF IS INHUMANE. FOR THOSE BRAVE WARRIORS OF ALL NATIONS I PRAY, FOR YOU ARE NOT THE MEN WHO MAKE THE DECISION. PEACE.

  7. Phil Hendrie from USA

    The attack on the United States by terrorists aided and abetted by a number of terror sponsoring countries is reason enough for America's war of self-defense, a war that is being prosecuted in the most humane fashion possible. What the Iraqi people must endure for the next several weeks pales in comparision to the horror visited upon them by their leader Saddam. The glee with which Saddam has shown images of dead and captured Americans on Iraqi TV is but further proof of his barbarity. I don't suppose it matters to him that he might frighten children watching these things. It matters to American soldiers who as much as possible are bending over backwards every step of the way to show civility and decency to the Iraqi people. Shame on this website for its seemingly tenacious fight to keep the Iraqi people in the torture chamber of Saddam

  8. Adam Ibrahim Muhammad from Nigeria

    It is interesting that each time we have an article on US and its agression, the issue of "legitimacy" of Israel policies pops up. This is done by the jews on this discussion panel. They are bent on telling us that this war is fought for them by the US. I am in compelete agreement.

    From the day the state of Israel was created the UN falls under the control of the US and has been so till today. The control has reached such a stage that the US gives ULTIMATUM to the Security Council and by implication to the UN! In fact the ultimatum according to the US has now made UN "irrelevant". The other day on CNN Mr. Blix was asked wether the UN has crumbled he laughed and says its "shear nonsense". But is it? Each member of the Security Council has an equal power; "vote", so for the US to issue ultimatum and goes along to execute its threat...My brother if this is not destroying the UN I wonder what it is. No matter How you look at it there are two choices for the world community remaining either continuing with the statusco and thereby surrendering the world's "sovereinty" to the US or dissolving the UN charter and beginning a fresh!

    I rest my case, brothers. May Allah continue to open our eyes to the evil machinations of those who meant no good the the Universe.

  9. kelelawar from Malaysia

    'in this case we use Newton's Principle, every reaction must be equal action but opposite direction'.

  10. Karen from Australia

    Donald Rumsfeld is complaining that showing US POW's on TV is against the Geneva convention. Can they honestly expect the Iraqis to follow international laws when they have blatantly flaunted them in starting this war?? I guess the Nuremberg principles will be up for an amendment now.... Who gets to vote on that??

  11. Yahya Bergum from USA

    May my enemies enjoy long and carefree lives. There is no god but God. Muhammad is God's messenger.

  12. Solomon Weiskop

    To David: You talk about Israel taking over "the sovereign nation of Palestine". What planet do you live on? In the real world, there is absolutely no historical record of a "sovereign nation of Palestine". There never was such a thing.

    The establishment of Israel in 1948 was by the authority of the United Nations, so how is that illegal? The UN also offered Palestinian Arabs their own state, but they refused it! Instead of peacefully developing their own state they attempted to destroy the Jewish state. Five Arab armies invaded Israel within days of her establishment, in an attempt to destroy her. THAT was illegal!

  13. Nur Islam from uk

    while the war in iraq progresses, pondered to rubbles by the arroganta might of US and UK, we muslim countries just look on from the side, powerless and voiceless, as we watch our fellow muslim suffered. this war has show us all how we muslim countries around the world are disunited and easily talked into fighting our fellow muslim countries. let us show our unity and stop being the laughing stock of the US and especially the israeli.

  14. kelelawar from Malaysia

    'of course, israel is never exist in our map'

  15. David from USA

    Solomon, by this principle then, the terrorist attacks of the Stern gang (and others) against Palestinian Arabs, as well as the takeover (and ethnic cleansing) of the sovereign nation of Palestine by the self-proclaimed Zionist movement, was also clearly illegal.

    I have always maintained that if we create a homeland for the Jews on the basis that one existed thousands of years ago, then we also need to provide the Romans with their former empire. After all, it was their homeland 2,000 years ago. Also, America needs to cede all of its territory back to the Cherokees, the Blackfoot, the Mohawk, and all the other native American groups. It was their land for 13,000 years. And we should also give the Mongols back their old homeland from China to Vienna, as well as return America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, much of Africa, India, and yes, Palestine to the United Kingdom. After all, they all lived there in the past. It's only fair. Oh yes, and all of those cultures believed they were a special people destined by God or their gods to inhabit those lands.

    Personal note: May Allah protect our brothers and sisters in faith during these trying times. Let us remember other times when the Muslims were downcast and defeated, and how we were able to survive and thrive. Let us remember how Islam was peacefully spread througout the world and especially in East Asia, and let us strive to bring Islam peacefully to those who have no knowledge of it. Only when we regain our faith in Allah as a group and hold fast to the handhold that never breaks will our honor and dignity be restored to us.

  16. hassen Ferris from canada

    what do you mean egypt war against israel was illegal The creation of the stae of israel is what isreally illegal

  17. yazid from usa

    Salaam-

    Most of the western nations are not part of nor do they reconize the world court hence they will not allow their citizens to be tried in it.

    The bullies of planet earth will continue to bully until a bigger bully shows up...it's what history says...and it's probably what the future will hold.

    This life is a test...and dealing with bullies is a part of that test....while it is wrong to bully someone....it's still happening and we have to ask ourselves WHY?

    Why would the sustainer and owner of the universe let bullies rule the earth....

    We'll find out when we die..but in the meantime we have to hold strong to our faith.

    Salaam

  18. Ken David from US

    Sorry but it is unlikely the US is in violation of this treaty since Iraq is in violation of the cease fire they signed at the end of the Gulf war and therefore the truce is off. This technically makes the war justified, if such a thing is possible. Also it could be argued that Iraq is a threat to and has threaten the US and it's allies. Regardless, world nations also signed a treaty against the use and possesion of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Something Iraq refused to comply with. It seems Bush is walking a fine line. I wouldn't be surprised if he was brought up on charges.

  19. Solomon Weiskop

    The launching of aggressive war is illegal. By this principle, the aggressive war launched by Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Iraq, and Lebanon in 1948 to destroy the state of Israel was clearly illegal. By this principle, the aggressive war launched by Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in 1967 to destroy the state of Israel was clearly illegal. By this principle, the aggressive war launched by Egypt and Syria in 1972 to destroy the state of Israel was clearly illegal. By this principle, the suicide/homicide terror campaign launched by the Palestinians against the state of Israel in 2000 while peace negotiations were ongoing was clearly illegal.

  20. Adam Ibrahim Muhammad from Nigeria

    This is interesting. I hope Bush and Co. will join the likes of the Nazis after this war.

    Did I hear you say but after this war they will be controlling the UN or they have been doing it eversince... I agree with you. The fact of the matter is that no matter the law or protestors say, Bush is bent on pursuing the New American empire dream. And what he is saying is that nobody on this planet can stop him. They have forgotten that we have seen the great Roman empire come and gone, the Byzantine, the Parsian , even here in Africa Empires have come and gone just like that. Some have stayed long enough to reach their peak while others crumble along the way. We wait and see how this one will even take up. you have a long way to go Bush. This you can be sure of. You still have Iran, Syria, North Korea to take care of. Goodluck.

  21. Mobeen from USA

    The recent attack on Iraq by the American Imperilaist minded administration is a clear violation of Such congressional expressions as above,In short the Bush administration should be held responsible for such attacks and tried against the war crimes

  22. romelia palacios from usa

    WOW!! WHAT I HAVE IS QUESTTONS DID I UNDERSTAND THAT THE USA IS IN VIOLATION OF THIS AGREEMENT? WHAT ARE THE CONCEQUENSES FOR THIS ? THIS ATICLE SHOULD BE LEAFLETS OUT OF PLANES SO PEOPLE GET EDUCATED VERY INTERESTING TO ACTUALLY READ WHAT THE FACTS ARE.IF I MISSUNDERSTOOD I APOLOGISE BUT IF I UDERSTOOD WOW !! CAN THE AMERICAN PUBLIC TAKE THIS TO A COURT OR THE WORLD FOR THAT MATTER ?