Det danske Fredsakademi
Kronologi over fredssagen og international politik 6. August
2012 / Timeline August 6, 2012
5. August 2012, 7. August 2012
Amerikansk atombombe eksploderer
over den japanske by
Litteratur: Ebbe, Annelise: Det eneste acceptable antal
atomvåben er nul. I: Informations kronik,
All Adult Citizens Are Breaking International Law If Complicit
In War Crimes Committed By Their Governments
By John Scales Avery
At the end of the Second World War, when the full extent of the
atrocities that had been committed by the Nazi’s became
known, it was decided to prosecute Nazi leaders for crimes against
peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity (such as
extermination camps). There was disagreement about how such trials
should be held, but after some debate between the Allied countries,
it was agreed that 24 Nazi officials and military leaders would be
tried by an International Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany, a former
center of Nazi politics.
There were originally 24 defendants, but two of them committed
suicide. One was presumed dead but was nevertheless tried in
absentia. Of the twenty-one remaining defendants, eleven were given
the death penalty, eight were sentenced to long prison terms, and
three were acquitted. Similar trials also took place in Japan.
In 1946 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously affirmed
“the principles of international law recognized by the
Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the judgment of the
Tribunal”. The General Assembly also established an
International Law Commission to formalize the Nuremberg Principles,
and the result was the following list. The reader is invited to
compare the crimes listed under Princicple VI with events that have
been occuring for a number of years in the Middle East and in other
parts of the world.
- Principle I: Any person who commits an act which constitutes a
crime under international law is responsible, and therefore liable
- 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 the 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 of
responsibility under international law, provided that a moral
choice was in fact possible for 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 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 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: Atrocities and offenses, including but
not limited to, murder, extermination, deportation, imprisonment,
torture, rape, or other inhumane acts committed against any
civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or
religious grounds, whether or not in violation of the laws of the
country where perpetrated.
• 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.
The Nuremberg Principles are being used today as the basis for the
International Criminal Court’s trials of individuals accused
of genocide and war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and
The Principles throw an interesting light onto the status of
soldiers. According to the Nuremberg Principles, it is not only the
right, but also the duty of individuals to make moral and legal
judgments concerning wars in which they are asked to fight. If a
soldier participates in an illegal war (and all wars, apart from
actions of the UN Security Council, are now illegal) then the
soldier is liable to prosecution for violating international law.
The fact that he or she was acting under orders is not an excuse.
The training of soldiers is designed to remove the burdens of moral
and legal responsibility from a soldier’s individual
shoulders; but the Nuremberg Principles put these burdens squarely
back where they belong – on the shoulders of the
Although only 24 Nazi leaders were held responsible for their
crimes at the Nuremberg Trials, Pronciples IV and VII make it clear
that a much larger number of people could have been tried, since
“complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war
crime, or a crime against humanity… is a crime under
international law”. In other words, all adult citizens are
breaking international law if they are complicit in the crimes
committed by their governments.
All of us are responsible for what our governments do! I personally
would like to extend the principle of individual responsibility
still further: – I think that all of us are responsible for
working actively, with all our strength, to solve the serious
problems that are facing the world today, whether the problems are
related to the abolition of war, to the prevention of poverty, the
prevention of famine, or to saving the biosphere.
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