“Hidden Figures”: The United Nations War Crimes Commission and the Codification of International Criminal Law

Staatsarchiv Ludwigsburg, Arsenalplatz 3, Ludwigsburg
Dr. Sabina Ferhadbegović (Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena); in Kooperation mit Prof. Dr. Kerstin von Lingen, Universität Wien; Dr. Julia Eichenberg, Humboldt Universität Berlin
20.02.2020 - 21.02.2020
Kerstin von Lingen

“Crimes against peace” and “crimes against humanity” are undoubtfully two elements of a crime which have acquired enormous resonance in the legal and moral discussions in the aftermath of the WWII. They are often connected to the International Military Tribunal and the person of the American chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, Robert Jackson, who also was the head of the American delegation to the London Conference. It is frequently overlooked, that the way for the London Charter was paved by the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC). The UNWCC was established in October 1943 by seventeen of the Allied nations, including the European occupied countries like France and Poland but also New Zeeland and China, the only Non-Western independent nation. Its main function was to formulate and implement general measures for trial and punishment of alleged Axis war criminals.
Most of the Representatives in the UNWCC took part in the predecessor’s semi-official committees: the International Commission for Penal Reconstruction and Development and the London International Assembly (LIA). But the list of Representatives, who drew from their experience in the League of Nations is also very long and include the Australian representative Stanley Melbourne Bruce, the Chinese representative Wellington Koo or the French representative Rene Samuel Cassin.
It was the occupied countries and their governments-in-exile which strongly pushed the issuance of war crimes punishment. Among them, Czechoslovakia and Belgium were some of the most active. Their representatives to the UNWCC, Bohuslav Ečer and Marcel de Baer, advocated strongly for the establishment of an international tribunal to prosecute war criminals and for a new interpretation of war crimes. Their approaches didn`t always meet the approval of all members of the Commission, but they were almost certain that the other Representatives of the occupied countries would accept their opinions and support their claims, as well, as the Chinese representative, Wellington Koo.
To the legal experts of the governments-in-exile and to the other non-European states the participation on the UNWCC represented a rare chance to influence the prosecution of war crimes and bring in their concepts of law of war. The results of their work were the guideline for the legal framework of the London Charter. This workshop thus aims to address the “hidden figures” in the various circles and commissions, and inquire into biographical backgrounds as well as the “national mission” of the members.
Who were the representatives to the Commission? How did they participate in the development of the concepts of “crimes against the war” and “crimes against humanity”? How were “networks” of legal experts formed, and how did they cooperate? Did experience in previous committees, for example the League of Nations at Geneva, matter for these networks or their workflow? How did their war experience shape motivations to develop a legal punishment of war criminals? And how did the engagement in the UNWCC influence the work within their national War Crimes Commissions?
The workshop will explore these questions focusing on different actors operating in diverse contexts (League of Nations, Governments-in-exile, Non-European governments, occupied states) in order to reassess the impact of the UNWCC on the Codification of the international criminal law and to highlight the connections between the actors, international and national concepts and policies. The workshop focusses on the networks built through legal institutions and investigate the flows of legal concepts from the League of Nations to the United Nations General Assembly.

Organization: Dr. Sabina Ferhadbegović (Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena) sabina.ferhadbegovic@uni-jena.de


As space is limited, please register with Dr. Sabina Ferhadbegović (Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena) sabina.ferhadbegovic@uni-jena.de

10.00-11.00 Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen, Schorndorfer Str. 58, Ludwigsburg
Walk through the archives and the exhibition of the Central Office with the State prosecutor Michael Otte

11.30-12.30 Lunch Break

12.30 Start Workshop, Veranstaltungssaal, Staatsarchiv Ludwigsburg, Arsenalplatz 3
Welcome: Sabina Ferhadbegovic (Jena)

12:45-13.45 Keynote
Joe Powderly (Leiden): The UNWCC and the protection of global heritage

Panel I: Aiming for Post-War Justice: The Origins of the UNWCC
Julia Eichenberg (Berlin): Cul-de-Sac or origins of the UNWCC?: The London International Assembly and its Sub-Commission on the Trial of War Criminals
Kerstin von Lingen (Wien): UNWCC strategies for crimes against humanity - Marcel De Baer’s and Bohuslav Ecer’s impact
14:45-15.15 Coffee break
Panel II: Biographical Approaches
Narelle Morris (Perth): Australian Representatives to the UNWCC, 1942-1948
Anja Bihler (Heidelberg/ Bejing): China’s Legal Experts at the UNWCC and its Sub-Commission in Chongqing
Valentyna Polunina (Washington/Heidelberg): The Soviet Union – an „Absent Player” at the Codification of the International Criminal Law

19:00 Dinner (by reservation)

21.02.2020 Staatsarchiv Ludwigsburg, Staatsarchiv Ludwigsburg, Arsenalplatz 3

09:00- 10.30 Panel III: A Global Discussion?
Sara Weydner (Berlin): An Idealistic Pragmatist: Johannes M. de Moor, International Criminal Law and the United Nations War Crimes Commission
Jan Kober (Prag): International criminal law vision of Bohuslav Ečer
Ann-Sophie Schoepfel (Konstanz/Paris): Diplomatic Strategy in State Recognition in the Midst of World War II. René Cassin and the Free French Delegation at the United Nations War Crimes Commission

Coffee break

Dominika Uckiewicz (Wrocław) "Justice for Poland" - Polish exiled lawyers in the struggle for international recognition and punishment of war crimes during the second world war.
Sabina Ferhadbegovic (Jena): The Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunals and the United Nations War Crimes Commission
Vojtěch Kyncl (Prag): The definition of “War Crime” by the UNWCC and its application in the Czechoslovakia since 1945

12:30 Final discussion

13.00-14.00 Lunch break

Denazification-Trials: Walk through the Staatsarchiv with Dr. Peter Müller


Kerstin von Lingen

Universität Wien, Institut für Zeitgeschichte
Spitalgasse 2-4, A-1090 Wien, Österreich


“Hidden Figures”: The United Nations War Crimes Commission and the Codification of International Criminal Law, 20.02.2020 – 21.02.2020 Ludwigsburg, in: H-Soz-Kult, 07.02.2020, <www.hsozkult.de/event/id/termine-42422>.
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