Changing the Paradigm of International Criminal Law: Considering the Work of the United Nations War Crimes Commission of 1943–1948

in International Community Law Review
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More than 2,000 international criminal trials were conducted at the end of World War II in addition to those held by the International Military Tribunals (IMTs) at Nuremburg and Tokyo. Fifteen national tribunals conducted these trials in conjunction with an international war crimes commission established by these same states in October 1943 under the name, The United Nations Commission for the Investigation of War Crimes, that soon became the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC). The extensive work of the UNWCC and these tribunals serves as a source of customary international criminal law that relates directly to the current work of the International Criminal Court and the ad hoc tribunals in operation since the 1990s.

Changing the Paradigm of International Criminal Law: Considering the Work of the United Nations War Crimes Commission of 1943–1948

in International Community Law Review




See Schwelbibid. pp. 363–364.


The Moscow Declaration of October 1943available at


Schwelbsupra note 12 p. 368.


Schwelbsupra note 12 p. 368.


See Pleschsupra note 12 at Chapter 5.


See Schwelbsupra note 12 p. 373. “From the very beginning the UNWCC was advocating for the extension of the scope of retributive action of the United Nations beyond the traditional notion of war crimes in the technical sense i.e. of violations of the laws and customs of war. The UNWCC’s endeavours in this respect were twofold: on the one hand they concerned the interpretation of its own terms of reference; on the other they consisted in recommendations concerning the trial and punishment of crimes committed in territories occupied before the actual outbreak of war or on Axis territory against Axis nationals and stateless persons. The great controversial question whether the initiation of a war of aggression was a crime was much discussed within the UNWCC with outside assistance from academic circles. The UNWCC’s deliberations and proposals had considerable influence on the inclusion in the Charter of the International Military Tribunal in the documents modelled after it and in the draft peace treaties of provisions for the punishment of “crimes against humanity’” and the discussions within the UNWCC were one of the factors which contributed to the inclusion in the different agreements and instruments of provisions against crimes against peace.


See Pleschsupra note 12 Chapter 5 Arieh Kochavi Prelude to Nuremberg: Allied War Crimes Policy and the Question of Punishment (1998); Leonard Backer Brahmin in Revolt: A Biography of Herbert C. Pell (1972) pp. 290–310.


See Schwelbsupra note 12 at pp. 368–9 “This interpretation appears to have been confirmed by the Judgment of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg where it is said that to initiate a war of aggression is the supreme international crime which differs from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole and according to which the crime against humanity is a subsidiary type of war crime. This interpretation is further borne out by the Charter of the International Military Tribunal of the Far East and by the Indictment against the persons accused as the Japanese major war criminals. Moreover Article 5 (VII) (b) of the quadripartite Vienna Agreement on the Machinery of Control in Austria of 28 June 1946 enumerates among the activities reserved to the Allied Commission ‘the tracing arrest and handing-over of any person wanted by other United Nations’ (than the four occupying Powers) for ‘war crimes and crimes against humanity’ and ‘included in the lists of the United Nations Commission for War Crimes.’”


Schwelbsupra note 12 p. 224.

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