War crimes and justice

In this week’s “Elon Law Now” faculty commentary series, Elon Law Professor of Legal History David M. Crowe describes the emergence and importance of International Humanitarian Law and the International Criminal Court following World War II.

David M. Crowe, professor of legal history, Elon University School of Law; professor of history, Elon University
Professor Crowe’s commentary follows:

“As nations around the world commemorate the end of WWII, it is often forgotten that the evidence gathered for the tens of thousands of war crimes trials held afterwards helped convince the international community that a new body of international accords needed to be created to address the single most devastating aspect of the war – the mass number of civilian deaths. Over time, the UN and the ICRC created what is now called International Humanitarian Law (IHL), anchored in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and its later Protocols Additional. This, coupled with the 1948 Genocide Convention, laid the groundwork for the 1998 Rome Statute and the creation of the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC).

“Ideally, the ICC was meant to address the fatal flaw of IHL, the existence of a permanent court to deal with the various crimes laid out in the Rome Statute. While the ICC has been criticized for its slow pace in investigating and adjudicating numerous war crimes, it must be remembered that the court is a creation of a diverse international community where a number of major powers have failed to become ‘state powers’ or, where a ‘state power’ ratified the Rome Statute, refuse to cooperate in ICC investigations of crimes committed in domestic conflicts. And even though such lack of cooperation tends to weaken the ICC’s efforts to bring to justice war criminals globally, its creation and operation represent a major step forward in the ongoing maturation and enforcement of IHL.”

David M. Crowe is professor of legal history at Elon Law and professor of history at Elon University. He is the author of the 2014 book, “War Crimes, Genocide, and Justice.” 

“Elon Law Now” is a weekly series of commentary and analysis by members of the faculty at Elon Law