Contemporary international efforts to seek justice and accountability for mass atrocities can be traced to the Nuremberg Tribunals, which were established to prosecute Nazi leaders for atrocity crimes committed during World War II. Atrocity crimes are the most serious international crimes and include genocide, the crime of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Soon thereafter, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was set up to hold Japanese leaders accountable for their actions during World War II. To many, this moment in history represents a breakthrough in international justice because it was the first time that an international tribunal was convened to prosecute a country’s leaders for such serious crimes.
Justice Efforts in the Second Half of the 20th Century
Since Nuremberg, several international courts and tribunals have been set up to hold to account the perpetrators of mass atrocity. For example, the United Nations Security Council established international tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia to respond to crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide committed in those countries in the 1990s. Later, the international community created the International Criminal Court by treaty, which has jurisdiction from 2002 onward with respect to states that have joined the treaty. It is the first permanent international court with the authority to prosecute atrocity crimes. Since the creation of the International Criminal Court, additional tribunals have been set up with international assistance in countries where serious international crimes have occurred.
International efforts to hold the perpetrators of mass atrocity to account continue. One ongoing challenge in these efforts is ensuring that those affected by atrocity crimes play a meaningful role in the pursuit of justice. The Ferencz International Justice Initiative works to place victims’ needs, interests, and expertise at the center of international justice and accountability measures.
Connections: International Justice and Atrocity Prevention
Seeking justice and accountability can help societies recover from mass atrocities. Exposing the truth about the past and preserving the memories of the victims of mass atrocities are also important to the healing process. However, the benefits of international justice efforts extend beyond the borders of affected countries. Holding perpetrators to account for mass atrocities sends a clear message that these grave crimes will not be tolerated. We believe that the pursuit of international justice can deter potential perpetrators and prevent future situations of mass atrocity.