The Nuremberg principles are a set of guidelines for determining what constitutes a war crime. The Nuremberg trials established that all of humanity would be guarded by an international legal shield and that even a Head of State would be held criminally responsible and punished for aggression and Crimes Against Humanity.
On November 21, 1947, one year after the end of the first Nuremberg trial (IMT), the United Nations passed General Assembly Resolution 177 in order to codify the so-called “Nuremberg Principles.” The original language reads:
177 (II). Formulation of the principles recognized in the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and in the judgment of the Tribunal.
The General Assembly decides to entrust the formulation of the principles of international law recognized in the charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and in the judgment of the Tribunal to the International Law Commission, the members of which will, in accordance with resolution 174 (II), be elected at the next session of the General Assembly, and direct the Commission to:
(a) Formulate the principles of international law recognized in the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and in the judgment of the Tribunal and,
(b) Prepare a draft code of offences against the peace and security of mankind, indicating clearly the place to be accorded to the principles mentioned in sub-paragraph (a) above.
In order to fulfill this mandate, the International Law Commission (which had been created under UN Resolution 174) duly codified seven principles, listed below, and adopted them on July 29, 1950.
The “Nuremberg Principles” are:
Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment.
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.
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.
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.
Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on the facts and law.
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 of slave-labour or for any other purpose of the civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or 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 inhumane 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.
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.