Legal issues for teachers and students with background information and teaching resources.
Below are some resources for teachers to use in their classrooms. We intend these resources to be a springboard for ideas, and encourage teachers to adapt these resources as appropriate to suit their students’ needs.
The first International Military Tribunal was conducted in Nuremberg, Germany, after World War II (thus also known as the Nuremberg Trials). Its objective was to punish those who had committed war crimes during the Holocaust. A court must rely on established laws to enforce its judgments. Administrators of the Nuremberg Trials encountered significant difficulties in determining which set of laws to apply. It was clear to them that they could not rely on German laws of the time because these laws had, for the most part, been put in place to sanction the very offenses that the defendants were accused of committing.
The British courts recognized an intrinsic principle that the job of the court is to enforce the laws passed by the British Parliament, and therefore, the international tribunal could not recognize and enforce British law. The same argument could be made for the laws of any jurisdiction even if they were the victors in the war. The court decided to rely on “Natural Law” – the basic human principle that some acts are inherently wrong and when the harm that has been perpetrated is great, the person committing the offense must be punished. The judges of the Nuremberg Trials, steeped in their respective ideas of justice, grappled with the complexities of applying this principle.
Judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) continue to face these complexities today. Whose form of justice should be applied: those of the nation-state where the offenses occurred, or by some other standard of law? Should the governments of nation-states around the world accept an external standard, even if some of the world’s major political powers (such as the United States) decline to participate in the ICC? In order to create a framework for effective enforcement, the ICC has defined the specific atrocities it will address and ensures that member states pass comparable laws prohibiting such atrocities in their own countries.
The ICC as it is presently constituted has not yet decided a case. Teachers and students may find it helpful to look to the past to understand how the Court might proceed, and then apply their understandings to present-day cases in front of the Court.
The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre provides a comprehensive mock trial called Nuremberg: A Student Mock Trial of Julius Streicher.
The full mock trial resource (40 pages) is available online.
Additional resources for teaching, including a PowerPoint presentation of evidence used in the Nuremberg Trials (one for grades 7 – 9, another for grades 10 – 12), are available online.
Applying to current ICC cases
After participating in the mock trial, teachers can encourage students to visit the International Criminal Court website, and then identify and think critically about some of the challenges the Court may face as it brings the issues it is now investigating to trial.
The ICC’s official website provides up-to-date information about its current cases.
The ICC’s official website also provides streaming (with 30-minute delays) of proceedings in its two courtrooms, which students might find interesting and educational. The ICC also has a YouTube channel with footage from some of its proceedings, press conferences and meetings.
To understand the relationship between Canada’s government and the ICC, students can visit Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.