The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Legacy: Strengths, Flaws and Relevancy Today

17 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2015 Last revised: 26 Apr 2015

Date Written: March 17, 2015


Seventy years ago the allied powers took on a bold and rather radical move at the time to conduct a complex extraordinary legal experiment that would impact future generations. For the first time ever in the history of humanity an international tribunal was established to try individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace. During that time the notion that an international tribunal could bring perpetrators to account for their crimes within an international context was unheard of and to a certain extent seemed rather utopian and contrary to ordinary practice.

However the presence of international criminal tribunals today is not strange despite Nuremberg’s shortcomings there is no doubt that its successes are measurable. Nuremberg set pace for the legal framework of international criminal law, one would argue it was the birth certificate of international criminal law today. Nuremberg’s least disputed contribution today is in the substantive law in the Nuremberg principles that are universally accepted. The Nuremberg principles managed to establish individual criminal responsibility and led to the demise of the strict application to the doctrine of state sovereignty. The principle of no immunity for heads of state is of great relevancy for the peace and security of the international community, in recent times we have witnessed many heads of states appear before international criminal tribunal to answer to charges of gross human rights violations committed against their civilian population.

Irrespective of the successes, flaws and legacy of the Nuremberg Trial, the Trial was a milestone that needs to be emphasised , Nuremberg was, is and will be of great relevancy to international criminal law in the future and there is doubt to a large extent its relevancy will always play key role in shaping the future of international criminal law. Nuremberg will still have a “lex ferenda” impact on the application and enforcement of international criminal especially when it comes to the subject of “the crime of aggression”.

Suggested Citation

Collins, Matsiko Sam, The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Legacy: Strengths, Flaws and Relevancy Today (March 17, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Matsiko Sam Collins (Contact Author)

Independent ( email )

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