Skip to main content

Timeline Browse

1945–46: A New, but Limited, Legal Sanction Is Issued

1945–46: A New, but Limited, Legal Sanction Is Issued

Defendants in the dock at the International Military Tribunal trial of war criminals, Nuremberg, Germany, November 1945.

Allied forces codified the general principle of “crimes against humanity” into enforceable law and prosecuted Nazi war criminals for atrocities they committed against both their own and other nation’s citizens. However, the law was limited in scope, applying only to crimes committed during an international conflict.

The Charter of the International Military Tribunal (1945) defined crimes against humanity as “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.”  The definition of crimes against humanity was further refined during the process of drafting the Rome Statute (1998), which created the International Criminal Court.

Photo: US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of National Archives and Records Administration.