WUSTL conference examines legacy of Nazi war trials Sept. 29-Oct. 1

The three surviving U.S. prosecutors to participate

The Nuremberg trials of major Nazi war criminals spawned the idea of international human rights, but have the principles endured?

Leading scholars from Washington University in St. Louis will join former Nuremberg prosecutors and distinguished experts on international criminal justice to examine the legacy of the war trials and their impact on international law, the judicial system and world peace.

The conference, “Judgment at Nuremberg,” marks the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials and will take place Sept. 29-Oct. 1 on the Washington University campus. It includes a commemorative program that will honor the trial’s three surviving U.S. prosecutors — Benjamin B. Ferencz, Whitney R. Harris and Henry T. King Jr.

In addition to Ferencz, Harris and King, presenters will include:

  • Keynote speaker M. Cherif Bassiouni, Distinguished Research Professor of Law and president of the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University College of Law;
  • Philippe Kirsch, president of the International Criminal Court;
  • Patricia Wald, member of the President’s Intelligence Commission; and
  • Michael Walzer, the UPS Foundation Professor in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study and author of the seminal work Just and Unjust Wars.

U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) also is scheduled to speak. He will reflect on the service of his father, the late Thomas J. Dodd, former U.S. executive trial counsel who served under Justice Robert H. Jackson, chief prosecutor at Nuremberg.

The conference is sponsored by WUSTL’s School of Law and its Whitney R. Harris Institute for Global Legal Studies and the Department of Philosophy in Arts & Sciences in collaboration with the Robert H. Jackson Center, the American Bar Association Section on International Law and the American Society of International Law.

All speaker sessions will be held in the Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom in Anheuser-Busch Hall.

The event will conclude with the screening of two documentaries made in 1949 and an exhibit of photographs and rare documents depicting Nazi Germany and the prosecution of Hitler’s chief advisers.

Produced in the former U.S.S.R., The Nuremberg Trials: the Third Reich’s Inhumanity to Man on Trial illustrates in graphic narrative and images the horrific price of war and genocide waged by the Nazi regime.

The second film, the U.S. Army documentary Nuremberg, captures scenes from Nazi-made films introduced as trial evidence of the atrocities carried out at German concentration camps.

In September of 1946, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg found 19 of the 22 individual defendants and four of the seven defendant organizations guilty of at least one of the crimes for which they had been indicted: crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes against peace.

The world press flocked to the war-torn city to witness and report on a revolutionary chapter of history in the making.

“This was the first major international criminal trial,” said John O. Haley, Wiley B. Rutledge Professor of Law and director of the Harris Institute. “Nuremberg became the touchstone for contemporary international criminal trials and spawned the idea of international human rights.”

The symposium on Friday is a cooperative effort by the law school and the philosophy department to explore the moral and legal responsibility for war crimes.

“For more than 2,000 years philosophers have been prominent in the debates about what constitutes a just war and how those who fight in war should conduct themselves,” said Larry May, Ph.D., J.D., professor of philosophy. “This conference will bring together theorists of that tradition with law scholars who study and consult in contemporary international trials.”

Given the recent reports of genocide in Darfur and other African nations, organizers say the timing of their conference is critical. International court rulings and congressional debates on due-process protections for prisoners are also a call to action.

“Those designing the Guantanamo trials would do well to look to the Nuremberg trials for guidance,” said May, who is completing a three-volume work on the normative foundations of international criminal law. (Each volume is pegged to one of the three crimes charged at Nuremberg.) “One of the major goals of our conference is to aid in this effort.”

Another goal is to evaluate the progress societies have marked in upholding international criminal justice.

“As is the case with all human endeavors, the Nuremberg principles have been implemented neither perfectly nor completely, said Leila Sadat, J.D., the Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law and a leading authority on international criminal law and human rights.

“The establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002 — the direct embodiment of the Nuremberg legacy —was an enormous step forward in the enforcement of international criminal norms,” she said. “But we have a great distance yet to go.

“Strengthening the international rule of law is an important part of increasing the safety and security of all human beings in this global age.”

For more information on this conference, call (314) 935-7988 or go to law.wustl.edu/higls/conferences/nuremberg/.