Nuremberg Trials: Legal Responsibilities


Thesis (M.A.) 2012 25 Pages

Law - Philosophy, History and Sociology of Law


With the swift drop of a gavel the International Military Tribunal (IMT) had made its decision. The judgment panel would issue 12 death sentences, 7 imprisonment sentences ranging from 10 years to life, along with three acquittals. This would be the crowning achievement of what was referred to as “victors justice.” The Nuremberg trials as they would come to be known set the precedent for modern day International Law and prosecution of violators not in accordance with the established legal standard. It would also lead to a permanently established International Criminal Court (ICC) that would try international persons for genocide, and crimes against humanity. At what cost was this legal precedent established? The cost was the moral and ethical code the lawyers and panel judges swore an oath to uphold instead they exchanged their obligatory commitments for “Justice.”In this thesis paper, I will be seeking to argue that although the prosecution against the Germans was done, it did not live up to its desired expectations.

Indeed, the I945 will still remain one of the most remembered years in the study and history of humanitarian law. This year is also remarkably the year that saw the end of one of the most popular war ever experienced in human history. The war left along a disparaging political, economic, sociological and psychological effect among participating countries living behind million of people dead. The war popularly known as the World War II remarkably left so much destruction that would not be easily forgotten[1]. The causalities of the war were both soldiers and civilians. The civilian mostly were displaced from their homes with millions sustaining injustices and serious psychological and physical injuries, as a result of gunshots, grenades and bombs from opposing countries.

Following this effects that lasted for several years, the international community sought to have justice for the victims. The effects on the civilians were so traumatizing and serious, thus demanding a punishment against those who perpetrated the heinous crimes. Since the Germans were most involved in the war, most of the victims of the war were as a result of German atrocities. Therefore, a trial was set up in Nuremberg to seek justice for the victims and as expected more than twenty one German soldiers and government official were tried at Nuremberg. This trial was as a result of mass action and public outcry that started just immediately after the world war.

This mass action received most of the backing from foreign and international bodies. Other governments also involved in the same plea for justice of the victims of the war. As more governments were pushing for justice so did the acrimony and carnage of that pressure escalated. One of the significant causes of the Germans trial in Nuremberg is the defeat of Third Reich. This defeat opened the eyes of many people in the quest for justice of the victims as it reveled exactly how the Germans made innocent people and civilians suffer in the countries they fought by committing what would come to be known as crimes against humanity. This also was promoted by outcry over the Nazi concentration camps atrocities and escalated this to an upsurge. Thus to punish the perpetrators, the Nuremberg trial was set up in a few years after the outcry and a trial, begun in the town of Nuremberg.

Nuremberg Trials: Legal Responsibilities

In this trial, prosecution for “crimes against humanity” was not, in a legal sense, justified. The depth of the humanitarian issues is presented by the Nuremberg trial judge panel. The judgment did not consider the moral and ethical issues to the world as a whole and to the entire legal world. Since any large trial, of a group of people is considered as a single set, the panel and the trial proceeding setup was exceedingly complex. The issues that are presented in the trial were also complicated and complex. In this regard, the decisions in the case are affected with this comparability. This has made the modern study of this case to be divided into several sections. This section enhances the learner and interpreters of the case to handle this complexity with an impression of coherency. In the first section, the Nuremberg trial carefully analyses the crimes that are perpetrated by the accused.

Ethical Issues Considered During the Nuremberg Trial

The Nuremberg trial that took place in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg exhibited a number of ethical and moral issues. The ethical issues were to be taken into consideration by the judges and prosecutors in the trial of the Nazi war criminals and administration of justice to the victims of Nazi war crimes2[2]. The judges and prosecutors drawn from the four allied nations failed to in calculate some of these ethical and moral issues in order to arrive at judgment that could serve justice to the victims of the atrocities while setting an appropriate precedent[3].

Ethics can be defined as a set of principles and guidelines employed to determine harmful behavior towards persons and individuals in society. It draws close resemblance to morality. Ethics implies conforming to moral principles and guidelines of a particular profession, group of people or an individual.

The legal basis for Nuremberg trial was established by the London charter drafted during the Second World War to hold to account the Nazi crime perpetrators. The Nuremberg trial was to try around 200 war criminals while other minor offenders were to be tried through other mechanisms of military justice in Germany. The trial limited to meting out punishment to the perpetrators of crimes during the Second World War between 1939 and 1945. The instruments of surrender of Germany defined the legal jurisdiction of the court. The allied powers, which exercised political control over Germany over the period, were to decide whether to hold to account the perpetrators according to international law or in accordance to war crimes.

A number of leaders including soviet leader Joseph Stalin and the president of the USA, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had earlier preferred mass executions of the war criminals. Stalin expected around 50,000 to 100,000 perpetrators to be executed with President Roosevelt jokingly acknowledging 49,000 as the right number[4]. However, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, expressed his reservations to this kind of justice system. He opposed the idea stating that he would have to be executed first before these kinds of executions could be carried out.

The British prime minister inclined to punish the Nazi criminals according to the Moscow document of which he had helped draft. The Moscow document proposed trials in the places where the crimes committed. However, Churchill opposed to the mass executions mainly due to political reasons. The British prime minister favored mass trials in areas where the atrocities were committed as opposed to the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin’s ideology of trials where the traditional presumption of not guilty was not employed but where all the accused persons were considered guilty until proven innocent.

The Nuremberg was set up to try three types of crimes. It was set up so as to provide justice to the victims of crimes against humanity. An example is the crime against humanity of ethnic cleansing, which was a prerogative of the Nazis. The Jews and other races were considered, not a pure race, so, they were either murdered, deported, imprisoned or be taken to concentration camps to be subjected to forced labor. Other crimes that the trial was to look into were crimes against the disruption of world peace and crimes committed in the acts of war either against civilians or other fighting soldiers.


[1] Correspondence of John Burton; Benjamin B. Ferencz.” The American Journal of International Law. Vol. 85, No. 2, Apr., 1991,

[2] Davidson, Eugene. The Trial of the Germans: An account of the twenty-two defendants before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966.

[3] Finch, George A. “The Nuremberg Trial and International Law.” The American Journal of International Law. Vol. 41, No. 1, Jan., 1947, 20-37.

[4] Davidson, Eugene. The Trial of the Germans: An account of the twenty-two defendants before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966.


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Title: Nuremberg Trials: Legal Responsibilities