Affirmation of the Principles of International Law
recognized by the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal
General Assembly resolution 95 (I)
New York, 11 December 1946
  • Introductory Note
  • Procedural History
  • Documents
By Antonio Cassese*
President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

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1. Introduction

General Assembly resolution 95 (I) was adopted on 11 December 1946 on the initiative of the United States delegation. The adoption of this resolution followed the judgment of 1 October 1946 by the International Military Tribunal (‘IMT’) at Nürnberg which sentenced twelve Nazi defendants to death and seven to periods of imprisonment ranging from ten years to life. The agreement for the establishment of the IMT had been signed in London on 8 August 1945. Attached to this agreement was “The Charter of the International Military Tribunal” (‘the IMT Charter’).

In resolution 95 (I), the General Assembly affirmed the principles of international law recognized by the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and the judgment of the Tribunal (‘the Nürnberg principles’). By “affirming” those principles, the General Assembly (consisting at the time of fifty-five Member States) clearly intended to express its approval of and support for the general concepts and legal constructs of criminal law that could be derived from the IMT Charter and had been set out, either explicitly or implicitly, by the IMT. Translated into law-making terms, this approval and support meant that the world community had robustly set in motion the process for turning the principles at issue into general principles of customary law binding on member States of the whole international community.

By the same resolution, the General Assembly further directed the Committee on the Progressive Development of International Law and its Codification – established by resolution 94(I) – to “treat as a matter of primary importance plans for the formulation, in the context of a general codification of offences against the peace and security of mankind, or of an International Criminal Code, of the principles recognized in the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and in the judgment of the Tribunal.”

Resolution 95 (I) was followed by a second resolution 177 (II), adopted by the General Assembly on 21 November 1947, in which the Assembly directed the newly created International Law Commission (‘the Commission’) – established by resolution 174 (II) – to formulate these principles and to prepare a draft Code of Offences against the Peace and Security of Mankind (‘the draft Code’).

2. The Formulation of the Nürnberg Principles

At the first session of the International Law Commission, the question arose as to whether or not the Commission should ascertain to what extent the principles contained in the IMT Charter and judgment constituted principles of international law. The conclusion was that since the Nürnberg principles had been affirmed by the General Assembly, the task entrusted to the Commission was not to express any appreciation of those principles as principles of international law but merely to formulate them (Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1950, vol. II, para. 96). At the same session, the Commission appointed a Sub-Committee which submitted to the Commission a working paper containing a formulation of the principles.

The Commission then appointed Mr. Jean Spiropoulos as Special Rapporteur tasked with redrafting the text adopted by the Sub-Committee and submitting a report to the Commission. In the report he submitted to the Commission, the Special Rapporteur made a distinction between (i) the principles stricto sensu (which included the liability of accomplices, the precedence of international law over inconsistent domestic law, the denial of immunity for individuals who acted in an official capacity, the prohibition of the defence of superior orders, and the right to a fair trial) and (ii) the crimes (crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity). This distinction was, however, eventually abolished by the Commission which in 1950 adopted the Nürnberg principles (see below).

Following the submission of the text adopted by the Commission, the General Assembly did not formally adopt the Nürnberg principles in their elaborated form. It merely invited Member States to make observations (General Assembly resolution 488 (V) of 12 December 1950). The Commission was also instructed to take into account the observations of Governments and their delegations in preparing the draft Code. The Nürnberg principles were not developed any further. The draft Code, adopted by the Commission in 1954, suffered a similar fate. In its resolution 897 (IX) of 4 December 1954, the General Assembly, considering that the draft Code raised problems closely related to that of the definition of aggression, decided to postpone further consideration of the draft Code until the new Special Committee on the Question of Defining Aggression had submitted its report. The issue was not taken up again by the General Assembly until 1978.

On 10 December 1981, the General Assembly adopted resolution 36/106 by which it requested the Commission to resume its work on the draft Code. In 1996, the work of the Commission resulted in its adoption of the “draft Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind” (Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1996, vol. II (Part Two)).

3. The Nürnberg Principles

The “principles of international law recognized in the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and in the judgment of the Tribunal” adopted by the Commission in 1950 begin logically with that of individual criminal responsibility under international law. Principle I is essentially based on the IMT judgment which states that “crimes against international law are committed by men, not abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced” (IMT Judgment, p. 41).

Principle II states that criminal liability exists under international law even if domestic law does not punish an act which is an international crime. This principle is considered to be a corollary to Principle I. The idea contained in Principle II was already set out in article 6 (c) of the Nürnberg Charter, concerning crimes against humanity – defined as certain categories of acts “whether or not [such acts were committed] in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated”. In its judgment, the IMT held that “the very essence of the Charter is that individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state” (IMT Judgment, p. 42).

Principle III affirms the denial of immunity for individuals who acted “as Head of State or responsible Government officials”. This principle is based on article 7 of the IMT Charter. The abolition of the ‘Act of State’ doctrine was also reaffirmed by the IMT: “The principle of international law, which under certain circumstances, protects the representatives of a state, cannot be applied to acts which are condemned as criminal by international law. The authors of these acts cannot shelter themselves behind their official position in order to be freed from punishment in appropriate proceedings”. Further, the IMT added that: “He who violates the laws of war cannot obtain immunity while acting in pursuance of the authority of the state if the state in authorizing action moves outside its competence under international law” (IMT Judgment, p. 42).

Pursuant to Principle IV, “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” This idea was already contained in article 8 of the IMT Charter. However, the substance of the two texts is slightly different. Firstly, the Commission added the element of the “moral choice” developed in the IMT judgment. Secondly, the Commission did not retain the last phrase of article 8 according to which acting under superior orders “may be considered in mitigation of punishment if the Tribunal determines that justice so requires”; indeed, the Commission considered that “the question of mitigating punishment is a matter for the competent Court to decide” (see Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1950, vol. II, paras. 104 and 106).

The right to a fair trial is laid down in Principle V. This right was already defined and developed in chapter four of the IMT Charter entitled “Fair Trial for Defendants”. According to the Commission, the expression “fair trial” should be understood in light of the provisions of the IMT Charter (Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1950, vol. II, para. 109).

Principle VI codifies the three categories of crimes established by article 6 of the IMT Charter (crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity). Crimes against peace are defined in Principle VI (a) as “(i) planning, preparation, initiation or waging a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; (ii) participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i)”. Neither the IMT Charter or judgment, nor the Commission gave a definition of the “war of aggression”. The IMT considered that certain defendants had “planned and waged aggressive wars against twelve nations, and were therefore guilty of this series of crimes”. The IMT thus considered it “unnecessary to discuss the subject in further detail, or even to consider at any length the extent to which these aggressive wars were also “wars in violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances” (IMT Judgment, p. 36). Following the IMT judgment, the Commission, in its commentary, emphasized that the waging of a war of aggression could be committed only by “high ranking military personnel and high state officials” (Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1950, vol. II, para. 117). As for war crimes, Principle VI (b) repeats the text of article 6 (b) of the IMT Charter with the formula that war crimes are “violations of the laws and customs of war”. With respect to crimes against humanity, Principle VI (c) also closely follows the IMT Statute (art. 6 (c)), by only proscribing crimes against humanity “carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or war crime”. The formulation is, however, slightly different in that Principle VI (c) removes the phrase “before or during the war”. The Commission considered that the phrase contained in article 6 referred to a particular war, the war of 1939. However, the “omission of the phrase does not mean that the Commission considers that crimes against humanity can be committed only during a war. On the contrary, the Commission is of the opinion that such crimes may take place also before a war in connection with crimes of peace” (Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1950, vol. II, para. 123). It is interesting to note that the link between crimes against humanity and crimes against peace and war crimes was later deleted by the Commission when it adopted the draft Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind of 1996 (Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1996, vol. II (Part Two), p. 48; see also Control Council Law No. 10 of 20 December 1945; art. 1 (b) of the 1968 Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, which did not require the link; and ICTY, Tadić, Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction, Appeals Chamber, 2 October 1995, para. 141).

Finally, Principle VII states that “complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law.” It is surprising that this principle only retains complicity without explicitly mentioning other modes of responsibility such as planning, instigating, or ordering; nor does the principle include responsibility by omission (so-called “command responsibility”). It is not clear from the commentary of the Commission what modes of responsibility “complicity” entailed at the time (Robert Cryer, Prosecuting International Crimes, Selectivity and the International Criminal Law Regime, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 311). The IMT Charter provided under article 6 that “leaders, organizers and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy […] are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such a plan”. This was complemented – with regard to crimes against peace only – by article 6 (a) which stated that liability existed for the “participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of [crimes against peace]”.

4. Influence on Subsequent Legal Developments

A. Statutes of the International Criminal Tribunals

The Nürnberg principles affirmed by General Assembly resolution 95 (I) have considerably influenced the development of international criminal law. All of the principles are contained – in a slightly different and generally more elaborated manner – in the various international instruments establishing the international criminal tribunals. The principle of individual criminal responsibility at the international level – which at the time among other things marked the end of the doctrine whereby only States had rights and duties, that is, possessed legal personality under international law – is now a well-established principle in international criminal law. It was thus naturally inserted in the statutes of the international criminal tribunals (arts. 7 (1) ICTY Statute, 6 ICTR Statute and 25 ICC Statute). Likewise, the right to a fair trial is laid down in articles 21 ICTY Statute, 20 ICTR Statute, and 67 ICC Statute.

The principle of the irrelevance of official capacity is stated in articles 7 (2) ICTY Statute, 6 (2) ICTR Statute and 27 ICC Statute. Article 27 of the ICC Statute applies the rule to all the offences falling under the Court’s jurisdiction. It is more complete than Principle III in that it refers to “official capacity as a Head of State or Government, a member of a Government or parliament, an elected representative or a government official”.

The fact that action under superior orders does not relieve an individual from responsibility for criminal acts is set out in articles 7 (4) ICTY Statute and 6 (4) ICTR Statute. The ICC Statute, however, contains a significantly different formulation from Principle IV. Although article 33 (2) excludes that a superior order may be relied upon for genocide and crimes against humanity, for war crimes, it provides that superior orders shall not relieve a person of criminal responsibility unless (a) the person was under a legal obligation to obey orders of the Government or a superior; (b) the person did not know that the order was unlawful; and (c) the order was not manifestly unlawful.

The principle concerning complicity was extensively developed in the ICTY Statute. Article 7 (1) (and art. 6 (1) ICTR Statute) provides that “a person who plans, instigates, orders, commits or otherwise aids and abets in the planning, preparation or execution of a crime incurs individual criminal responsibility”. Furthermore, article 7 (3) ICTY Statute provides for the individual criminal responsibility of superiors. Article 25 (3) of the ICC Statute sets out all the modes of liability except command responsibility, which is provided in article 28.

With respect to crimes, the statutes of the ICTR, ICTY and ICC prohibit crimes against humanity (arts. 5 ICTY Statute, 3 ICTR Statute and 7 ICC Statute) and war crimes (arts. 2 ICTY Statute, 4 ICTR Statute and 8 ICC Statute). It is the notion of crimes against humanity which appears to have undergone the greatest development. While crimes against humanity were defined in Principle VI (c) in connection with war crimes and crimes against peace they are now a separate category of crimes. Crimes against peace are now referred to as the crime of aggression. However, despite the Nürnberg precedent and although elements of aggression existed in the context of both the former-Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the crime of aggression was not included in the statutes of the ICTY and ICTR. With respect to the ICC, since the Rome Conference could not reach a consensus on whether or not to include the war of aggression in the ICC Statute, the compromise was to confer on the ICC jurisdiction over this crime without defining it, and subject to its future definition.

B. Case Law

The Nürnberg principles and General Assembly resolution 95 (I) have been expressly referred to in national case law (see for instance, R. v. Finta, Supreme Court of Canada (1994) 1 S.C.R. 701 and Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Prosecutor v. Ivica Vrdoljak, 10 July 2008). In the Eichmann case, the Israeli Supreme Court held that General Assembly resolution 95 (I) is evidence that the Nürnberg principles form part of customary international law. According to the Court, “if there was any doubt as to this appraisal of the Nuremberg Principles as principles that have formed part of customary international law 'since time immemorial,' such doubt has been removed by two international documents. We refer to the United Nations Assembly resolution of 11.12.46 which ‘affirms the principles of international law recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, and the judgment of the Tribunal,’ and also to the United Nations Assembly resolution of the same date, No. 96 (1) in which the Assembly ‘affirms that genocide is a crime under international law’” (Attorney General of Israel v. Eichmann, Supreme Court of Israel (1962) 36 ILR 277).

The Nürnberg Principles were also developed in the French cases Touvier and Barbie (see Leila Sadat Wexler, “The Interpretation of the Nuremberg Principles by the French Court of Cassation: From Touvier to Barbie and Back Again”, 32 Colum. J. Transnat’l L., p. 289). With respect to the definition of crimes against humanity, the French Court of Cassation added the requirement that crimes against humanity be committed “in the name of a State practicing a hegemonic political ideology”. It also stated that crimes against humanity could be committed “not only against individuals because of their membership in a racial or religious group but also against the adversaries of that policy whatever the form of the opposition” (Barbie, French Court of Cassation, 20 December 1985).

The European Court of Human Rights recognized the “universal validity” of the Nürnberg principles in Kolk and Kislyiy v. Estonia. According to the Court, “Although the Nuremberg Tribunal was established for trying the major war criminals of the European Axis countries for the offences they had committed before or during the Second World War, the Court notes that the universal validity of the principles concerning crimes against humanity was subsequently confirmed by, inter alia, resolution 95 of the United Nations General Assembly (11 December 1946) and later by the International Law Commission” (Kolk and Kislyiy v. Estonia, Decision on Admissibility, 17 January 2006).

The customary law status of the Nürnberg Charter was expressly noted by the United Nations Secretary-General (Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 2 of Security Council resolution 808 (1993), UN Doc. S/25704, 3 May 1993, para. 35) and confirmed by the ICTY (Tadić, Opinion and Judgment, Trial Chamber, 7 May 1997, para. 623; and Tadić, Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction, Appeals Chamber, 2 October 1995, para. 141). The Trial Chamber in Tadić held that both the concept of direct individual criminal responsibility and personal culpability for assisting, aiding and abetting, or participating in a criminal endeavour or act have a basis in customary international law (Tadić, Opinion and Judgment, Trial Chamber, 7 May 1997, para. 666).

The ad hoc tribunals have also played a key role in expanding and clarifying the Nürnberg principles, for instance, by distinguishing between the modes of responsibility – committing, planning, ordering, instigating, aiding and abetting (ICTY, Tadić, Judgment, Appeals Chamber, 15 July 1999, para. 185 et seq.) and acknowledging joint criminal enterprise as a form of commission in customary international law (see ibid., paras. 185 et seq.; and Krnojelac, Judgment, Appeals Chamber, 17 September 2003, para. 31).

5. Summary and Conclusion

It has been stated that, in affirming the Nürnberg principles in resolution 95 (I), the General Assembly appeared to declare that the principles laid down in the IMT Charter and judgment were principles of customary international law and simply acknowledged as such by the IMT judgment (H.-H. Jescheck, The Development of International Criminal Law after Nuremberg, in Guénaël Mettraux (ed.), Perspectives on the Nuremberg Trial, p. 411). However, it must be noted that the Nürnberg principles as elaborated by the Commission were never formally adopted – or rejected – by the General Assembly. In addition, it would seem that some of the Nürnberg principles were in fact new. The proposition that they constituted customary international law at the time of their adoption by the Commission is therefore debatable. It would seem more appropriate to hold that General Assembly resolution 95 (I) strongly contributed to giving the Nürnberg principles the customary law status they have today.

Indeed, since 1946, the Nürnberg principles have been reaffirmed and developed in the statutes of the international criminal tribunals and in international and national case law. They are today widely considered to represent customary international law. The right to a fair trial (Principle V) is laid down in all the international instruments establishing international criminal tribunals (see arts. 21 ICTY Statute, 20 ICTR Statute, and 67 ICC Statute) and also in many human rights treaties (see arts. 14 (1) and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 8 of the American Convention on Human Rights and art. 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights) and in national and international case law. It therefore indubitably belongs to the category of customary international law. One could even argue that, given the general recognition by all States and international courts and tribunals of both its crucial importance and of the inadmissibility for States and national and international courts to derogate or deviate from it, it has also attained the status of a jus cogens norm.

In contrast, the other principles, being simply part of customary international law, may be derogated from by treaty. As mentioned above, this is the case, for instance, for the defence of superior orders as set out in article 33 (2) of the ICC Statute.

In addition, these principles have been spelled out over the years. For instance, since the rather “archaic” Nürnberg rules on participation in criminal conduct (Gerhard Werle, Individual Criminal Responsibility in Article 25 ICC Statute, Journal of International Criminal Justice, vol. 5, 2007, p. 953), the principles on the various modes of international criminal liability have been considerably developed. The definitions of the crimes have also evolved since Nuremberg. For instance, crimes against humanity now explicitly include the element of a “widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population” (art. 7 ICC Statute). The ICC Statute also contains four new categories of punishable acts as crimes against humanity: torture (art. 7(1) (f)), sexual crimes (art. 7(1) (g), enforced disappearance of persons (art. 7(1) (i)) and the crime of apartheid (art. 7(1) (j)). Finally, in 1948, the General Assembly approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which confirmed that genocide is a crime under international law. Genocide was also provided for in the statutes of the ICTY, ICTR and ICC (arts. 4 ICTY Statute, 2 ICTR Statute, and 6 ICC Statute). In light of the adoption of so many treaty or quasi-treaty provisions prohibiting and punishing genocide, and of the case law on the matter, it can now safely be held that genocide is a crime proscribed by customary international law.

__________________________
* The author expresses his appreciation to Ms. Vanessa Thalmann, Associate Legal Officer, Special Tribunal for Lebanon, for her assistance in the preparation of this note.

Related Material

A. Legal Instruments

London Charter of the International Military Tribunal, 8 August 1945.

General Assembly resolution 177(II) of 21 November 1947 (Formulation of the principles recognized in the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and in the judgment of the Tribunal).

International Law Commission, Report on the formulation of Nürnberg principles, prepared by the Special Rapporteur, Mr. J. Spiropoulos (A/CN.4/22, 12 April 1950, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1950, vol. II).

Report of the International Law Commission to the General Assembly on the work of its second session, 5 June – 29 July 1950, Official Records of the General Assembly, Fifth session, Supplement No. 12 (A/1316, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1950, vol. II).

General Assembly resolution 488(V) of 12 December 1950 (Formulation of the Nürnberg principles).

B. Jurisprudence

International Military Tribunal for Nuremberg, Judgment, 1 October 1946.

Supreme Court of Israel, Attorney General of Israel v. Eichmann, 1962, 36 ILR 277.

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, (Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadić, IT-94-1-AR-72), Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction, Appeals Chamber, 2 October 1995, para. 141.

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, (Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadić, IT-94-1-T), Opinion and Judgment, Trial Chamber, 7 May 1997, para. 623.

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, (Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadić, IT-94-1-A), Judgment, Appeals Chamber, 15 July 1999, para. 185 et seq.

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, (Prosecutor v. Milorad Krnojelac, IT-97-25-A), Judgment, Appeals Chamber, 17 September 2003, para. 31.

C. Doctrine

H. Donnedieu de Vabres, “Le procès de Nuremberg devant les principes modernes du droit pénal international”, 70 Recueil des Cours, vol. I, 1947, pp. 477-582 (translated into English in Guénaël Mettraux (ed.), Perspectives on the Nuremberg Trial, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 213-273).

S. Glaser, “La Charte du Tribunal de Nuremberg et les nouveaux principes du droit international”, Revue pénale suisse, vol. 63, 1948, pp. 13-38 (translated into English in Guénaël Mettraux (ed.), Perspectives on the Nuremberg Trial, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 55-71).

H.-H. Jeschek, “The General Principles of International Criminal Law Set Out in Nuremberg, as Mirrored in the ICC Statute”, Journal of International Criminal Justice, vol. 2, 2004, pp. 38-55.

H. L. Stimson, “The Nuremberg Trial: Landmark in Law”, International Affairs,vol. 25,1947, pp. 179-189.

T. Taylor, Nuremberg and Vietnam – An American Tragedy, Chicago, Quadrangle Books, 1970, pp. 95-97, 113-120.

T. Taylor, The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials, London, Bloomsbury, 1993, pp. 629-641.


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Three weeks after the International Military Tribunal (also known as the “Nürnberg Tribunal”) rendered its judgment on 1 October 1946, the General Assembly convened in New York for the second part of its first session. At the opening meeting, on 23 October 1946, the importance of the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal was recognized. The President of the United States, Mr. Harry S. Truman, addressing the General Assembly at that meeting, referred to the Nürnberg Charter as pointing to “the path along which agreement may be sought” in order to better protect mankind from future wars.

In his Supplementary Report on the Work of the Organization (A/65/Add.1), presented to the General Assembly on 24 October 1946, the Secretary-General declared that “[i]n the interests of peace, and in order to protect mankind against future wars, it will be of decisive significance to have the principles which were employed in the Nürnberg trials made a permanent part of the body of international law as quickly as possible.”

On 12 November 1946, in a letter written in reply to a report by Judge Biddle, United States member of the Nürnberg Tribunal, President Truman expressed “[the] hope that the United Nations will reaffirm the principles of the Nürnberg Charter in the context of a general codification of offenses against the peace and security of mankind.”

Leaders of the Major Allied Powers of World War II meeting at Yalta in the Russian Crimea on 12 February 1945, at which an agreement was reached to prosecute Axis leaders after the Allies acheive victory in Europe. Present were Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union, Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom, and Franklin Roosevelt of the United States.On 15 November 1946, in the course of the consideration by the Sixth Committee of the agenda item entitled “Carrying out of the provisions of Article 13 of the Charter regarding the progressive development of international law and its codification”, the delegation of the United States proposed a draft resolution by which the General Assembly would reaffirm the principles of international law recognized by the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal. The United States further recommended that the General Assembly should direct the Committee on the Progressive Development of International Law and its Codification (which it was proposed to establish) to treat as a matter of primary importance the formulation of the principles of the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and those found in the Tribunal’s judgment in the context of a general codification of offences against the peace and security of mankind or in an international criminal code (A/C.6/69). The Sixth Committee referred the proposal to its Sub-Committee 1, which was charged with the question of the codification and progressive development of international law.

The Sub-Committee considered the draft resolution submitted by the United States from 3 to 5 December 1946 (A/C.6/Sub.1/W.34, 35 and 36). It broadly approved the draft resolution and suggested that the Sixth Committee should recommend to the General Assembly the adoption of a resolution based on the proposal (A/C.6/116). On 10 December 1946, in its report to the General Assembly (A/236), the Sixth Committee recommended that the Assembly adopt a resolution to this effect. On 11 December 1946, the General Assembly unanimously adopted resolution 95 (I), which affirmed the principles of international law recognized by the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and the judgment of the Tribunal and directed the Committee on the Progressive Development of International Law and its Codification to consider plans for the formulation of those principles.

In the course of its debate, the Committee decided not to undertake the actual formulation of the principles of the Nürnberg Charter as it considered that this was a task demanding careful and prolonged study. Therefore, the Committee concluded in its report (A/332) that the discussion of the substantive provisions of the Nürnberg principles would be better entrusted to the International Law Commission, the establishment of which the Committee had recommended (see Report of the Committee submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 94 (I) of 11 December 1946, A/331). The report, submitted during the second session of the General Assembly, recommended unanimously that the International Law Commission should be invited to prepare a draft convention incorporating the Nürnberg principles as well as a detailed draft plan of general codification of offences against the peace and security of mankind in such a manner that the plan should clearly indicate the place to be accorded to the principles.

At its second session, on 23 September 1947, the General Assembly referred the report of the Committee to the Sixth Committee, which, after a general discussion, on 29 September 1947, referred it to its Sub-Committee 2, charged with considering the question of the establishment of an International Law Commission. The Sub-Committee decided that the task of formulating the Nürnberg principles should be referred to the International Law Commission and drafted a resolution to this effect.

On 20 November 1947, the Sixth Committee broadly adopted the draft resolution (A/C.6/180/Rev.1) recommended by the Sub-Committee. On 21 November 1947, following the recommendation of the Sixth Committee (A/505), the General Assembly adopted, by vote of 42 to 1, with 8 abstentions, resolution 177 (II) by which the International Law Commission was directed to formulate the principles of international law recognized in the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and in the judgment of the Tribunal.

Accordingly, at its first session, in 1949, the International Law Commission undertook a preliminary consideration of the subject based on a memorandum submitted by the Secretary-General entitled “The Charter and the Judgement of the Nürnberg Tribunal: History and Analysis” (A/CN.4/5). At the same session, the Commission appointed a Sub-Committee, which submitted a working paper (A/CN.4/W.6) containing a formulation of the Nürnberg principles. After a careful consideration of this working paper, the Commission retained tentatively a number of draft articles and referred them back to the Sub-Committee for redrafting. The Sub-Committee thereafter presented a further draft (A/CN.4/W.12) to the Commission.

In considering the action to be taken with respect to the further draft submitted by the Sub-Committee, the Commission took into account its terms of reference as laid down in General Assembly resolution 177 (II). It noted that under that resolution the task of formulating the Nürnberg principles appeared to be so closely connected with that of preparing a draft code of offences against the peace and security of mankind that it would be premature for the Commission to give a final formulation to these principles before the work of preparing the draft code was further advanced. It therefore appointed Mr. Jean Spiropoulos as Special Rapporteur for both topics and referred to him the draft prepared by the Sub-Committee. The Special Rapporteur was requested to submit his report on the draft to the Commission at its second session.

In 1950, on the basis of the report presented by the Special Rapporteur (A/CN.4/22), the Commission adopted a final formulation of the Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal, and submitted it, with commentaries, to the General Assembly. It did so, however, without making any recommendation on further action thereon (see Report of the Commission on the work of its second session, A/1316).

The Commission’s formulation of the Nürnberg principles was considered by the Sixth Committee from 2 to 14 November 1950. On 14 November 1950, the Sixth Committee submitted a report (A/1639) to the General Assembly, which was considered on 12 December 1950. On the recommendation of the Sixth Committee, the General Assembly, by a vote of 42 to none, with 6 abstentions, adopted resolution 488 (V) on the same day. By this resolution, the General Assembly decided to send the formulation of the Nürnberg principles to the Governments of Member States for comments, and requested the Commission, in preparing the draft code of offences against the peace and security of mankind, to take account of the observations made on this formulation by delegations during the fifth session of the General Assembly and of any observations which might later be received from Governments.


Text of the Resolution

Selected preparatory documents
(in chronological order)

General Assembly, Verbatim records of plenary meetings Nos. 34 and 35 held on 23 and 24 October 1946 (A/PV.34-35)

Supplementary Report of Secretary-General on the Work of the Organization, 24 October 1946 (A/65/Add.1)

Sixth Committee of the General Assembly, Draft resolution submitted by the United States of America (A/C.6/69, 15 November 1946)

Sixth Committee of the General Assembly, Draft report of Sub-Committee 1 to the Sixth Committee, including “Proposed Resolution Relating to the Affirmation of the Principles of International Law Recognized by the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal” (A/C.6/116, 4 December 1946)

Report of the Sixth Committee to the General Assembly (A/236, 10 December 1946)

Report of the Committee on the Progressive Development of International Law and its Codification submitted to the General Assembly pursuant to General Assembly resolution 94 (I) of 11 December 1946 (A/331, 18 July 1947)

Report of the Committee on the Progressive Development of International Law and its Codification to the General Assembly on Plans for the Formulation of the Principles of the Nürnberg Charter and Judgment (A/332, 21 July 1947)

Sixth Committee of the General Assembly, Revised draft resolution adopted by Sub-Committee 1 to the Sixth Committee (A/C.6/180/Rev.1, 20 November 1947)

Report of the Sixth Committee to the General Assembly (A/505, 21 November 1947)

General Assembly resolution 177 (II) of 21 November 1947 (Formulation of the principles recognized in the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and in the judgment of the Tribunal)

Memorandum by the Secretary-General, “The Charter and the Judgement of the Nürnberg Tribunal: History and Analysis” (A/CN.4/5)

Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its first session, 12 April - 9 January 1949, Official Records of the General Assembly, Fourth Session, Supplement No. 10 (A/925, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Law Commission 1949, Vol. I, pp. 277-290 (A/CN.4/13 and Corr. 1-3))

International Law Commission, Working paper by the Sub-Committee on the formulation of the Nürnberg principles (A/CN.4/W.6, 1949)

International Law Commission, Revised working paper by the Sub-Committee on the formulation of the Nürnberg principles (A/CN.4/W.12, 1949)

Yearbook of the International Law Commission 1950, Vol. II, pp. 181-195 (A/CN.4/22, Report on the formulation of Nürnberg principles by Mr. Spiropoulos, Special Rapporteur)

Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its second session, 5 June - 25 July 1950, Official Records of the General Assembly, Fifth Session, Supplement No. 12 (A/1316, reproduced in Yearbook of the International Commission 1950, Vol. II, pp. 364-385)

Report of the Sixth Committee to the General Assembly (A/1639, 14 November 1950)

General Assembly resolution 488 (V) of 12 December 1950 (Formulation of the Nürnberg principles)