Nuremberg Was Not the First International Criminal Tribunal — by a Long Shot

The post-WWII creation of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg is widely regarded as the ‘birth’ of International Criminal Law, in supposedly being the first international criminal tribunal. My historical research challenges this consensus, revealing the centuries-long, forgotten history of International Criminal Law (the significance of the post-WWII trials notwithstanding). The research uncovers that in every century, since the late Middle-Ages, multi- and supra- partisan criminal tribunals existed. Moreover, it reveals a doctrinal connection between the various tribunals: Piracy is, actually, not the only longstanding international crime; law of war violators (war criminals) have long been considered ‘enemies of mankind’ and surprisingly, until quite recently, felons (murderers, robbers, rapists, etc.) were also regarded as such. In short, my research shows that International Criminal Law is not a post-WWII creation, rather its history spans over centuries.

Dr. Ziv Bohrer is an assistant professor at Bar-Ilan University, Faculty of Law. His main areas of interest are International Criminal Law and International Humanitarian Law. He is, currently, researching the long (forgotten) pre-WWII history of International Criminal Law.