Why the Nuremberg Trials Did Not Set a Good Precident for Crimes Against Humanity

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  • Topic: Nuremberg Trials, War crime, Nazi Germany
  • Pages : 12 (4269 words )
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  • Published : September 14, 2010
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“All human beings, whatever their cultural or historical background, suffer when they are intimidated, imprisoned or tortured… We must, therefore, insist on a global consensus, not only on the need to respect human rights worldwide, but also on the definition of these rights… for it is the inherent nature of all human beings to yearn for freedom, equality and dignity, and they have an equal right to achieve that”. ~ The Dali Llama

Early twentieth century events including the Armenian genocide during World War I and the Holocaust during World War II provided a historical basis and plenty of positive evidence for those who, like the Dali Llama, argued the need for an internationally identifiable definition of human rights. The systematic extermination of over 200,000 Armenians at the hands of the Young Turks during World War I and over 6 million Jews by the Nazis during World War II undoubtedly catalyzed an international coalition for addressing crimes against humanity. Yet, in order to define crimes against humanity, the international community faced both cultural barriers and the universally accepted rights to state sovereignty. Even still, the need to set a strong international precedent for condemning crimes against humanity that was undertaken during the Nuremberg trials after World War II was not successfully carried out. The shortcomings of the Nuremberg trials, in terms of defending against crimes against humanity, failed to separate the atrocities of the Holocaust from the acts of war perpetrated by the Nazis. In doing so, the trials inadvertently downplayed the historical and cultural significance of the Holocaust. Those who deserved justice the most and those who were guilty of injustices within the realm of crimes against humanity were not always held accountable. Thus, questions regarding the Nuremberg trial’s failure to set a precedent for condemning future crimes against humanity, the positive and negative affects of defining accountability during a time of war, what the meaning of justice was and what it meant to grant rights to people arose.

Why the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials of 1945-46 did not set a strong precedent for condemning future “crimes against humanity”.

The Nuremberg Trials created an international precedent in which nations, as well as the individual ranking members within those nations, could be held responsible for the atrocities of war. It embarked on a second attempt at international political policy aimed at diverting countries from catalyzing or taking part in wars and instead directing them towards peaceful ends. An ideal once unsuccessfully attempted by the League of Nations before World War II, it was to be resumed again after the Nuremberg Trials by the United Nations. Yet, as the Nuremberg Trials presented a strong precedent for holding accountable those responsible for igniting war, it did not necessarily set an equal precedent for condemning future crimes against humanity.

While drafting the International Military Tribunal, defining the boundaries of crimes against humanity became rather difficult. During the end of the war, it stood for “grave maltreatment or atrocities committed against persons who were unprotected by law because of their nationality”. This definition covered all of the nations which the Third Reich had conquered and waged war against, yet it did not include members of its own nation. Therefore, there were many anti-Nazi groups within Germany that were not included within this definition simply because they were Germans under German law; a loophole that included the German Jews, social Democrats, Communists, and liberals. Also, keep in mind that Germany at the time had annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia, and they too were subject to this loophole. So likewise, the Austrian and Czech Jews had the same problem that the German Jews had. In order to address this situation, the commission redefined such crimes as “crimes committed against any person...
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