Human Face

From Nuremberg to The Hague

I HAVE always been fascinated by war documentaries, like those on the Nazi era filmed by a woman, Leni Riefenstahl (“Triumph of the Will”), and by soldiers and “embedded” journalists. The ugliness of raw power, the cruelty and suffering as recorded, are enough to make anyone say, “Never again.”

On many of these images many war movies have been based. If you have watched the film “Judgment at Nuremberg” or the latter-day mini-series version, you must have a rough idea what an international trial court is about and must have been shocked by the atrocities committed by human beings against human beings.


The Asia-Pacific Times, a German publication I receive regularly from the German Embassy, recently featured the Nuremberg Trials Memorial. The article (“Justice and a bench”) began with a description of a piece of furniture, the bench on which accused war criminals of the Hitler era sat while they were being tried.

Wrote Klaus Grimberg: “This simple piece of furniture carries a tremendous symbolic power, as if justice and atonement have materialized in the hastily assembled wooden planks.” Among the accused who sat on it were Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess.


The permanent exhibit, the article said, is housed in the Palace of Justice and organized around the legendary Courtroom 600 where the trials conducted by the International Tribunal took place from Nov. 20, 1945 to Oct. 1, 1946.

“The Nuremberg Trials marked the beginning of international criminal law,” Grimberg wrote. “The Nuremberg Principles, established in 1950 by the United Nations, continue to be the foundations of modern international law. There is a straight line leading from Court Room 600 to the International Tribunal in The Hague.”

At The Hague in the Netherlands is the headquarters of the International Criminal Court (ICC) where modern-day “Nuremberg” trials are held. The Philippines will soon officially step into its portals.

The long awaited day has come for human rights advocates in the Philippines who have worked very hard to see the Rome Statute of the ICC signed by the President and for him to promptly endorse it for ratification by the Senate.

President Aquino officially signed the Rome Statute last Feb. 28 and did a symbolic signing last Monday, March 7, before the transmission of the instruments of ratification to the Senate. The President also received ICC president and judge Sang-Hyun Song who met with some members of the Senate.

Song was pleasantly surprised to learn that the President had signed the Rome Statute even before their meeting, and whatever brief remarks Song had prepared for the occasion he had to quickly modify.

Song would later say at a dinner in his honor hosted by legal and human rights groups that the Philippines becoming a state party to the Rome Statue of the ICC is “an enormous gift to the future generation.”


The Rome Statute is the founding treaty of the ICC, the first permanent international court that is capable of trying perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The ICC represents one of the world’s most significant opportunities to prevent or drastically reduce the deaths and devastation caused by conflict. Created in 2002, the ICC is now a fully functional judicial institution, with all of the senior officials of the court in place. Civil society played a crucial role in its creation.

It might take a few months but once the Senate’s ratification is official and signatures are affixed, the Philippines will be the 115th nation to become an ICC state party. Ratifying the Statute will mean joining the global movement to end impunity. The Philippines was actively engaged in the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an ICC in 1998.

Song laments that Southeast Asia is severely under-represented in the ICC. Only Cambodia and East Timor have ratified. The whole of South America and most of Europe are represented.

The ICC is an independent court and is not a part of the United Nations or any political body. It is a purely judicial institution that observes the highest standards of fairness and due process in all of its activities. Song stressed that the ICC is a court of last resort that only steps in if national courts are unwilling or unable to carry out genuine investigations and prosecutions.

Under the Rome Statute the national jurisdictions retain the primary responsibility to prosecute atrocity crimes but it is important that states ensure their domestic capacity to do so. So far, Song noted, almost 50 state parties of the ICC have enacted implementing legislation to that end and others will hopefully follow soon.

Song said, “One of the great achievements of the Rome Statute is the strong emphasis it puts on the position of victims. Hundreds of victims are already participating in the ongoing trials through their legal representatives even when they are not called as witnesses. The ICC also has the power to order reparations to victims—including restitution, compensation and rehabilitation.”

The ICC is becoming the international community’s instrument of choice in the global fight against impunity. “Only nine days ago the Security Council took an unprecedented, unanimous decision to refer the situation in Libya to the ICC,” Song announced. “Even all the non-state parties on the Council, such as China, Russia, the United States and India, voted in favor of the referral.” This, he said, was a strong expression of the world community’s growing trust in the ICC.

Again, I say, no to impunity, yes to ICC.

Send feedback to [email protected] or www.ceresdoyo.com

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TAGS: human rights, ICC, Philippines, Rome Statute
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