Creating individual criminal accountability

Nations agree that criminals should normally be brought to justice by national institutions. But in times of conflict, whether internal or international, such national institutions are often either unwilling or unable to act, usually for one of two reasons. Governments often lack the political will to prosecute their own citizens, or even high-level officials, as was the case in the former Yugoslavia. Or national institutions may have collapsed, as in the case of Rwanda.

Most perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity throughout history have gone unpunished. In spite of the military tribunals following the Second World War and the two recent ad hoc international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, the same holds true for the twentieth century. That being said, it is reasonable to conclude that most perpetrators of such atrocities have believed that their crimes would go unpunished. Effective deterrence is a primary objective of those working to establish the international criminal court. Once it is clear that the international community will no longer tolerate such monstrous acts without assigning responsibility and meting outappropriate punishment -- to heads of State and commanding officers as well as to the lowliest soldiers in the field or militia recruits -- it is hoped that those who would incite a genocide; embark on a campaign of ethnic cleansing; murder, rape and brutalize civilians caught in an armed conflict; or use children for barbarous medical experiments will no longer find willing helpers.

The Judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal stated that "crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced" -- establishing the principle of individual criminal accountability for all who commit such acts as a cornerstone of international criminal law. According to the Draft Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind, completed in 1996 by the International Law Commission at the request of the General Assembly, this principle applies equally and without exception to any individual throughout the governmental hierarchy or military chain of command. And the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the United Nations in 1948 recognizes that the crime of genocide may be committed by constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.
1. Crimes under international law by their very nature often require the direct or indirect participation of a number of individuals at least some of whom are in positions of governmental authority or military command.

2. From now on, all potential warlords must know that, depending on how a conflict develops, there might be established an international tribunal before which those will be brought who violate the laws of war and humanitarian law. Everyone must now be presumed to know the contents of the most basic provisions of international criminal law; the defence that the suspects were not aware of the law will not be permissible.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies