International criminal justice under pressure

05 May 2010 by Heikelina Verrijn

International judges and prosecutors claim to do their utmost to ensure that the practice of international criminal law satisfies fundamental principles. In practice, however, those principles often take second place to notions of human and humanitarian rights. 

The principle of guilt, which guarantees that persons are held responsible for the actions for which they have personal responsibility, was emphatically embraced by judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in their very first verdict. They echoed the principle of the Nuremberg judges “criminal guilt is personal”. The principle of nullum crimen - presumption of innocence - has been emphatically identified as a starting point of international criminal law. The ICTY judges in the Celebici trial regarded it as a “solid pillar.” And the third principle, fair labelling – the clear description of the crime and qualification which result in the suspect being prosecuted and potentially convicted for criminal facts which match his behaviour – was adopted as a starting point by the ICTY.

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