The (Failed) Attempt to Try the Kaiser and the Long (Forgotten) History of International Criminal Law: Thoughts Following The Trial of the Kaiser by William A Schabas
53 ISRAEL LAW REVIEW 159-186 (2020)
31 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2020
Date Written: May 19, 2020
The conventional historic account maintains that International Criminal Law (ICL) was ‘born’ after the Second World War. This account is incomplete, as William Schabas’s book – The Trial of the Kaiser (2018) – captivatingly shows, by richly portraying the (aborted) First World War initiative to try the German Kaiser in an international tribunal. But, this article (after providing an overview of Schabas’s book) argues that Schabas’s account, of a First World War ICL ‘birth’, is also incomplete. First World War-era ICL was but one link in a much longer historical chain. The article demonstrates this fact by presenting certain elements of ICL’s long (forgotten) history that provide answers to questions that have been left unanswered, not only by the conventional account (of a Second World War ICL ‘birth’), but also by Schabas’s account (of a First World War ICL ‘birth’). As the article shortly discusses, the unveiling of a greater ICL history indicates that international criminal tribunals were not a modern innovation, as well as reveals the origins of ‘crimes against humanity’, of ‘aggression’ and of the universal jurisdiction doctrine. The article further discusses reasons for the dis-remembrance of ICL’s long history, the importance of acknowledging that history and the likelihood of it becoming widely acknowledged any time soon.
Keywords: History of International Criminal Law, First World War, International Criminal Tribunals, Crimes Against Humanity, Aggression, War Crimes, Universal Jurisdiction.
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