International Law

Principles of International Law
Recognized in the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal*
Principle I
Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment.
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 a 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 from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to 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 a 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 or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory; murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war, of 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:
Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.
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. 

* Text adopted by the Commission at its second session, in 1950, and submitted to the General Assembly as a part of the Commission's report covering the work of that session. The report, which also contains commentaries on the principles, appears in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1950, vol. II. 




Investigation on the Principles of International Law and other Pertinent Documents 

  1. What can be learned about law by studying the “Principles of International Law?” Conduct research to see how international cases are reviewed and put on trial? What is the process for punishing someone, an organization or a nation under the “Principles of International Law?
  2. In 1989, the Conventions of the Rights of the Child were unanimously adopted by the United Nations and became international law in September 1990. Nations that accept the conventions are legally accountable for their actions towards children. Research the f54 articles of the Convention. They are contained within four main categories of rights: survival, development, protection and participation. Before conducting your investigation, see if you can brainstorm a list of rights that may fall under each category. Compare your ideas with the Conventions.
  3. In 1984, the United Nations passed a document entitled the “Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace.” The U.N. based the Declaration on several different beliefs. The two most significant are: 1) that life without war serves as the primary international prerequisite for the material well-being, development and progress of countries, and for the full implementation of the rights and fundamental human freedoms proclaimed by the United Nations, and 2) acknowledgment that in the nuclear age the establishment of a lasting peace on Earth represents the primary condition for the preservation of human civilization and the survival of mankind. Research the Declaration and report on the four principles that are a part of the document.
  4. Many countries throughout the world are often criticized for lending their signatures to declarations, such as those listed above, and then not adhering to the stipulations set out in the document. In reviewing any one of the documents, comment on how individual countries, including the United States, have not followed the laws it signed.