Evaluating the efficiency of International Tribunals in solving war crimes

Evaluating the efficiency of International Tribunals in solving war crimes

Anish Bachchan


This Blog is written by Anish Bachchan from Amity Law School, NoidaEdited by Karan Dutt.



Imagine watching a World War 2 documentary on Netflix. And you got a glimpse of the Shoah or the Holocaust in layman terms. You see the gas chambers, the concentration camps, the Einsatzgruppen (Nazi Death Squads), the trains carrying dead bodies and the poor condition of people living in the concentration or extermination camps. It might startle or even disgust you. That is the grim reality of war, it is not adventurous or glorious as told by the older generation but in reality it is just death.

The example I gave is an example of the war crimes. By definition, it means that the major warring parties are violating the “traditional laws of warfare”. The International Criminal Court gave the definition in a detailed manner which I won’t be copying here because of the fear of plagiarism[1]. On paper, these laws are set up to prevent any major crimes committed against the civilians or prisoners of war during the time of war. However, the crimes that are committed like the Holocaust, the Rawadan Geonicide or the crimes committed during the Yugoslav Wars or the Sri Lankan Civil War are just a slap in the face to the laws. These war crimes are not ignored by the West and NATO but also by the UN itself.

So when the international organisations have failed to stop the wars time and again then why should anyone in the right mind would ever support international tribunals to stop war crimes. They themselves are ineffective as the said organisations. And the tribunals and organisations of the international community are not the only ones at fault. Our human nature plays a huge role in orchestrating such wars. We talk big about not to repeat the mistakes of the past but we throw that away and say- “Eh, let’s go gun blazing again” and the whole cycle just repeats again. This time we have the physical checks to stop wars now i.e. nukes instead of the moral ones which will disappear as time stops for none[2].


World War II: Electric Boogaloo is the sequel to the so called “The War to End all Wars” aka World War I. The War started from 1st September 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland and ended on 2nd September when the delegates of the Imperial Japan signed the document of unconditional surrender in the USS Missouri[3]. There are no actual estimates of the casualties, but according to the Neill Hollaran’s research YouTube Video, it is about 70 million[4]. Others say about 50-80 million casualties[5]. If one thing is certain, about 2.5% of the world population at that time were the casualties and the saddest part of the war is 60% of the World War II casualties were civilians. Not to mention the majority of the victims were affected by the Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan[6]. Some of the war crimes were committed in China, Korea, South-East Asia, Western Europe and Eastern Europe. Some of the notable war crimes were-

1. Operation Barbarossa

2. Btaan Death March

3. The Shoah

4. Katyn Massacre

5. Malmendy Massacre and so on.

So when the papers of peace were finally signed, there were immediate consequences of the war.[7][8]

1) The European superpowers i.e. the likes of UK, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal which were once the juggernauts of the world are now the pale shadow of what it once was.

2) As the power balance has shifted from European Superpowers to the US and Soviet Union, it brought a new kind of war aka Cold War. It also led to the creation of the New World Order.

3) The cinders of World War II led to the rise of the Decolonisation movement as the European Superpowers began to wane.

4) Creation of International Organisation and Tribunals to stop any sequels of World War so that it won’t lead to complete anhilation.


After Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7th 1945 (8th May for the Russians), the Allied Powers wanted to punish the Nazi leadership. Almost the majority of the upper Nazi echelons have either committed suicide or fled to sympathising countries like Argentina especially in the case of Adolf Eichman. The Nazis have done so much damage to lots of ethnic/other groups like the Jews, Slavs, Catholics, Communists, LGBTQIA+ and disabled. Their war crimes have taken 11 million souls just because in their eyes, they are so called undesirable people in their Aryan World.

It was decided by the Allied Powersto punish the remaining high ranking Nazi officials. Those high ranking officials include Hermann Goering, Albert Speer, Rudolf Hess, R. Ribbentrop, Wilhem Keitel, Alfred Jodl and so on. There were 24 men who were indicted in the Nuremberg Trials, where 10 of them were sentenced to death and the rest were either imprisoned or acquitted[9].

However, the trial was not free from criticism. Those are in follows[10][11][12]

1. The phrase “history was written by the victors” perfectly sums up the trial because the trials were seen as victors’ justice. The allies were the main victors whereas Germany and her allies were the “losers” of the campaign.

2. The allies themselves have committed atrocities against the axis powers. For starters, the Soviet Red Army have committed mass rape in all of the countries they’ve “liberated” from Poland to Berlin. This account was known as rape of Europe. The US and UK also dropped bombs on cities which resulted in deaths of thousands.

3. The Nazi Scientists who were involved in the war crimes were given immunity by both the US and the Soviet Union. In fact they were actually hired. The US called this “Operation Paperclip”. One of the Nazi Scientist Wernher von Braun who was involved in German V rockets program was hired by NASA for their Apollo Space Program. The CIA (OSS) themselves extracted those scientists from Germany and brought them to the US.


When the War against Japan ended officialy on 2nd September 1945, the Second World War officially ends. So what was left of the allies were to punish the leaders of the losing nation. Japan’s war against the allies started when they invaded China in 1937 leading to the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Imperial Japanaese Army committed grave atrocities against the Chinese civilians like the Nanking Massacre and rape. Imperial Japan eventually declared war against the US and her Allies with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour and East Asians colonies and islands on December 7th and 8th 1941. The US eventually brought its might against Japan when the former made the latter sue for peace follwing the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria putting Japan’s position in an untenable manner.

After the war, the allies decided to follow the precendent of Nuremberg Trials and decided to punish the perpetrators of the war. There were 28 Highest Ranking Japanese upper echelons in both civilian and military lives. 6 of them were sentenced to death and the rest were imprisoned on limited terms or for life. Like Nuremberg, the Tokyo Trials were criticised for various reasons-

(i) The controversial Unit 731 scientists were given immunity by the United States. This is the unit which conducted experiments on civilians and prisoners of war.

(ii) The US itself has committed war crimes against the Japanese soldiers and civilians during and after the war. There were lots of report of rape of Japanese women by the American Gis. The US atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were controversial as well and it is justification is heavily debated to this day.

(iii) The US Genreal Douglas MacArthur decided not to put the Emperor of Japan, Hirohito on trial because he feared it would destabalised Japan in the time of Cold War. The Japanese Emperor was revered as god by the masses and removing him would make things harder. So the emperor and his family were excluded from the trial which is very controversial.

LEGACY OF THE WW2 TRIBUNALS [15][16][17][18]

1. Creation of International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice. These organisations will follow the principles of Geneva and Hague conventions.

2. The terms-

    1. Crimes against Peace
    2. Crimes against Humanity and,
    3. War Crimes

Became a staple and bastion for the future war related cases.

3. Radhabinod Pal, the Indian Judge who took part in the Tokyo Trials was the only judge who was in support of acquitting the Japanese “War Criminals”. His contribution improved the Indo-Japanese Relations post-war. India was one of the few countries which rejected the San Francisco Treaty of 1951 and signed its own friendship traty with Japan.

4. On December 9th 1948, the UN also created Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which will make the perpetrators stand for trial.


“Unfortunately for you, History will not see it that way”- Darth Maul, Star Wars The Clone Wars.

In reality the tribunals are just paper tigers, following the end of the Second World War. As previously said there were many examples of genocides and wars that the West, NATO, China, Russia and even the UN just shrugged at.

1. The Rwanda Genocide which resulted in the deaths of 800,000 civilians just because of the rivalries of the Tutsi-Hutu ethnic clash. The Hague began indicting the military leadership for such genocides the but damage was already done.[19]

2. The Sri Lankan Civil War saw some of the worst fighting in South Asia which continued for 26 years. The conflict killed 100,000 people because the Tamils and Sinhalese wanted to trade blows against each other, particularly the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan Government. The UN did little to no help to settle the conflict and the perpetrators of the war are just enjoying their lives scott free.[20]

3. The Yugoslav Wars which spanned for almost a decade brought a brutal and heartbreaking break up of the country. The War killed about 140,000 people and Europe saw some of the worst war crimes since the end of the Second World War. Slobodan Milesovic who was involved in the Bosnia War, epsecially in the Seige of Sarajevo was presented before the Hague following his resignation in 2001 after the corruption scandal destroyed his image. He died in 2006 before the proceedings could take place. Several key people of the war were also charged by the Hague for their crimes during the war.[21]

4. The overlooked Congo wars saw some of the worst examples of war crimes committed against the civilians and captured combatants. With 5.4 million souls lost their lives in the conflict, it shows how useless the UN really is. And even if the UN provided help, it was too little too late.[22][23]

In the end, I would say that the international tribunal needs to reform itself so that they could be efficient in stopping future wars. Although the optimism gets overshadowed by the current Kashmir Conflict, Israel-Palestine Beef, the Koreas, the civil wars in Iraq, Yemen and Syria and the onging but not going to last long War on Terror. It is earnestly hoped that we do not learn the blood and carnage of the past as General MacArthur said in USS Missouri after World War II ended.


[1] Customary IHL – Rule 156. Definition of War Crimes. (2019). Icrc.org. https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_rul_rule156

[2] Metal Gear Solid: Learning Lessons Of War From Video Games. (2021, March 30). Youth Ki Awaaz. https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2021/03/metal-gear-solid-the-lessons-of-war/

[3] Wikipedia Contributors. (2018, December 10). World War II. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II

[4] The Fallen of World War II. (n.d.). Www.youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwKPFT-RioU

[5] WW2 – OverSimplified (Part 2. (2018, March 15). WW2 – OverSimplified (Part 2). YouTube. https://youtu.be/fo2Rb9h788s

[6] LEMMiNO. (2014). Top 10 Facts – War. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gi7kiUiYtv8

[7] World War II and the Beginning of the “New World Order” – Veterans Today | Military Foreign Affairs Policy Journal for Clandestine Services. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2021, from https://www.veteranstoday.com/2019/04/18/world-war-ii-and-the-beginning-of-the-new-world-order/

[8] Aftermath of World War II. (2021, February 9). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aftermath_of_World_War_II#United_Kingdom

[9] The Nuremberg Trial. (n.d.). Www.youtube.com. https://youtu.be/vywGZzb9O4M

[10] The Red Army’s Rape of Europe | The Globe at War. (n.d.). Www.globeatwar.com. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from http://www.globeatwar.com/article/red-armys-rape-europe

[11] Nuremberg Trials – Criticism. (n.d.). Www.liquisearch.com. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from https://www.liquisearch.com/nuremberg_trials/criticism

[12] De La Garza, A. (2019, July 18). How Historians Are Reckoning With the Former Nazi Who Launched America’s Space Program. Time; Time. https://time.com/5627637/nasa-nazi-von-braun/

[13] The Tokyo Trial Explained. (n.d.). Www.youtube.com. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from https://youtu.be/B7Vwe9jCp-c

[14] International Military Tribunal for the Far East. (2021, June 16). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Military_Tribunal_for_the_Far_East#Sentencing

[15] The Tokyo Trials. (2019). Facing History and Ourselves. https://www.facinghistory.org/holocaust-and-human-behavior/chapter-10/tokyo-trials

[16] Evolution of International Criminal Justice. (2020, October 29). The ABA’s ICC Project. https://www.aba-icc.org/about-the-icc/evolution-of-international-criminal-justice/

[17] Radhabinod Pal. (2021, June 21). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radhabinod_Pal

[18] Wikipedia Contributors. (2019, October 28). India–Japan relations. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India%E2%80%93Japan_relations

[19] History.com Editors. (2019, September 30). Rwandan Genocide. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/africa/rwandan-genocide

[20] https://www.facebook.com/thoughtcodotcom. (2009). History of the Sri Lankan Civil War. ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-sri-lankan-civil-war-195086

[21] The Yugoslav War | Boundless World History. (n.d.). Courses.lumenlearning.com. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-worldhistory/chapter/the-yugoslav-war/

[22] Guild, H. (2021, May 13). Africa’s World War: The Congo War. History Guild. https://historyguild.org/africas-world-war-the-congo-war/

[23] The African World War | Animated History. (2019). [YouTube Video]. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XuRsZGmC9o

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