Investigations and prosecutions for crimes committed since the Second World War

Essay by soal99University, Bachelor'sA, March 2006

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Despite the millions of crimes under international law committed since the guns fell silent in 1945, there were few criminal investigations or prosecutions - either in the states where the crimes occurred or abroad - for nearly four decades. Indeed, with respect to the obligation of states parties to the 1949 Geneva Conventions to try or extradite people suspected of grave breaches, the Director of Doctrine and Law of the International Committee of the Red Cross stated in 1986 that "this jurisdiction has not, to our knowledge, been used" and, added, in despair, that "universal jurisdiction for war crimes is, as experience has shown, of no practical value."

In 1995, he said, that there had been few prosecutions for grave breaches. Nevertheless, the attitude of states to prosecution for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law, both based on territorial and universal or other forms of extraterritorial jurisdiction, had already begun to change.

Starting with the 1980s, there has been a renaissance in the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction over crimes under international law, as a result of a number of factors. First, the renewed interest in pursuing prosecutions of crimes committed during the Second World War, both on grounds of territorial and extraterritorial jurisdiction raised questions among the general public about why there had not been similar prosecutions with respect to contemporary crimes under international law. The determination of some new democratic or transitional governments (such as those in Argentina, Bolivia, Germany, Hungary, the Central African Republic, Mali and Poland) to bring to justice persons responsible for human rights violations in their own countries committed during previous governments was also a one of the reasons. Perhaps the most decisive factor was pressure from victims or their families in exile on prosecuting authorities in their state of...