A morally persuasive idea

Prof. Dr. Christoph Safferling, Vice President of the Advisory Board of the International Nuremberg Principles Academy (IANP). (Image: Gabriele Neumann)

On the 70th anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg Trials: an interview with legal expert Prof. Dr. Christoph Safferling

Prof. Safferling is Vice President of the Advisory Board of the International Nuremberg Principles Academy (IANP), which was inaugurated on 6 June 2015. In addition to Prof. Safferling, the Advisory Board’s nine members include Vice President Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, President Thomas Buergenthal, former judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and Sang-Hyun Song, former president of the International Criminal Court. The Academy was set up by the Federal Foreign Office, the Free State of Bavaria and the city of Nuremberg to promote international criminal law. It is based at the historic site of the Nuremberg Trials, in courtroom 600 of the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. Prof. Safferling is Chair of Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law and Commercial Criminal Law at FAU.

The Nuremberg Trials and the Nuremberg Principles are considered landmarks of modern international criminal law. The International Nuremberg Principles Academy (IANP), as a forum for current discussion in international criminal law which aims to promote peace through law, is following in some significant footsteps. What are your tasks as a member of the Advisory Board?

IANP’s goal is to promote the legitimacy, lawfulness and acceptance of international criminal law and its application everywhere in the world, and thus to support the struggle against impunity for serious crimes that affect the international community as a whole. Its work includes interdisciplinary research, specialised training and consultation for particular target groups, and education in human rights. IANP’s work is directed to jurists in international criminal courts, academics, diplomats and multipliers all over the world. IANP makes a special priority of working with countries and societies that face challenges in international criminal law. Through its work, the Academy makes a systematic contribution toward the enforcement of the Nuremberg Principles, a cornerstone of modern international criminal law.

The Advisory Board sets the standards for and determines the focuses of IANP’s work. Here it is important to identify urgent problems in international criminal law and to provide the Academy with suggestions for appropriate programmes.

In 1950, with the adoption of the Nuremberg Principles, the international community declared for the first time that it was determined to universally put an end to impunity for international crime. Looking back now, 70 years after the start of the Nuremberg Trials, how much do you think has been achieved?

It is impossible to exaggerate the significance of what began in Nuremberg back in 1945. The idea, which was largely formulated by the US chief prosecutor Robert H. Jackson, of bringing heads of government and military commanders before a criminal court just like any other criminal revolutionised international law. The fact that the idea survived past the end of the Cold War shows its moral persuasiveness. However, it has not yet become fully established worldwide, even though we now have the International Criminal Court which was set up in 2002. We have not yet put an end to impunity for crimes against humanity – we have to fight for the ideas that originated in Nuremberg on a daily basis.

In light of this, what can be said about the current conflict in Syria?

The conflict in Syria is an immense challenge for the world. The International Criminal Court has not yet become involved, but national prosecutors – including the Federal Prosecutor General in Germany – have to deal with cases from the Syrian context on a daily basis. For example, German citizens are involved in the fighting, making themselves liable to prosecution for war crimes and possibly even genocide. Back in Germany they may also be considered a terrorist threat. The conflicts are becoming globalised and for this reason the only way to prevent and stop them is through international efforts. The International Criminal Court would be hopelessly overwhelmed if it had to prosecute all the crimes. Nation states therefore need to be able to prosecute international crimes effectively. This is also one of the lessons from Nuremberg: mass crimes cannot be dealt with fully from a legal point of view without the help of the judicial authorities in individual states. This is exactly where IANP aims to come in.

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Christoph Safferling
Phone: +49 9131 8522247

Addition information