IRRC No. 321

The experience of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda

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The ancient dream of international criminal jurisdiction is gradually becoming a reality. Article 227 of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles provided that German Emperor Wilhelm II should be tried by an international court to answer charges of “flagrant offences against international morality and the sacred authority of treaties”. But since the Netherlands refused to give up the accused, the trial never took place, and Wilhelm II died in exile in Holland in 1941. Articles 228 and 229 of the Treaty providing for the prosecution of war criminals were applied in a disappointing way in the Leipzig trial. The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after the Second World War undeniably represented progress towards the creation of a body with truly international criminal jurisdiction, but they were greatly influenced by their origins and in effect applied the law and justice of the victors rather than those of the universal community of States.

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