Pizza with the Professors Event Looks at International Criminal Court
Web Editor - Published: February 21, 2012
“Can you hold individuals responsible when they are just part of a bigger machine?” asked Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development Andrew L. Strauss rhetorically as he discussed some of the big questions that arose out of the Nuremberg Trials and how those questions ultimately influenced the International Criminal Court and the development of international criminal law.

Professor Strauss presented his take on the development of the International Criminal Court as the first Pizza with the Professors event of the 2012 spring semester. Following a brief introduction from Associate Professor Jules Epstein, Strauss began his presentation with a look at international law prior to the Nuremberg Trials.

He noted the primacy of state sovereignty, saying that states were “absolutely supreme” within their own territories, and that they could only really be regulated by international law by consenting to be subject to it. He tied his interest in the subject of international law to his own family history, noting that his grandparents were Jewish immigrants who left Germany prior to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

Moving on to World War II and the development of the International Military Tribunal to try Nazi war criminals by the Allied forces, Strauss discussed the beginning of a paradigm shift that would irrevocably change international law. He noted, however, the criticisms that arose out of the Nuremberg Trials, including “issues of individual versus collective justice” and the question of whether the trials represented the imposition of ex post facto law.

“Would the world actually create a system that would make these paper promises a reality? The answer was no initially,” Professor Strauss said of the formation of the United Nations and efforts to codify international law.

He cited the Berlin Blockade and the beginning of the Cold War as significant impediments to a working international law framework. The rise of non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch did provide further evidence that many were still committed to international methods of dealing with aggressive nations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, however.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, marking the end of the Cold War, led to further changes. Ethnic cleansings in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s demonstrated that there were still problems, however. Those conflicts led to the establishment of ad hoc tribunals to try war crimes, which demonstrated the need for a more permanent solution.

Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which provided the justification for the creation of the tribunals to handle the Rwanda and Yugoslavia issues, lays out the Security Council’s powers to maintain the peace and respond to acts of aggression. Controversy as to whether the U.N. charter actually gave it the authority to set up courts remains, and not every country proved excited to see international law strengthened.

In the summer of 1998, the U.N. General Assembly convened in Rome and approved the creation of the International Court by a vote of 120 to 7. By April of 2002, the requisite sixty countries had signed and ratified the statute, and there are now 120 countries that are signatories to the Rome statute. The court has the power to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and eventually the crime of aggression.

Professor Strauss concluded the presentation by looking at the future of the court. He acknowledged that it still has a long way to go. The court’s first verdict is expected soon, and efforts are underway to expand the court’s investigations beyond Africa, which has seen all of the court’s attention thus far.

The next Pizza with the Professors event will take place at noon on Tuesday, March 13th in the student lounge off Main Street. Professor John C. Culhane will talk about the state of marriage.