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Human Right Course
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What are human rights?
The history of human rights
What right do we have?
The protection of Human Rights
Inter-governmental organisations
Non-governmental organisations
The press and media
International criminal courts
Human rights in everyday life
Human Rights

Did you know

Did you know that the majority of people who kill a person in peacetime are punished, while people who kill hundreds or thousands during wartime often walk free?




There are many ways of promoting and protecting human rights. One of these is punishing criminals that commit atrocities and human rights violations during wartime. It is important that crimes are punished so that victims feel their suffering is being taken seriously. Besides this, punishment also has what we call a "deterrent aspect". When people know they can be punished, they will hopefully think twice and choose not to commit crimes.

States that have been through wars and conflicts are not always in a position to conduct fair and effective trials and judge people suspected of war crimes and other atrocities. Sometimes these people still hold positions of great power in the society, or they may have fled abroad. In both of these cases it can be difficult to arrest and punish them. Some states do not have the skills and resources necessary to conduct trials.

The Nuremburg Court and international ad hoc courts
Since human rights violations in a country are also an international responsibility, many people have believed that international tribunals ought to be set up and given the job of investigating and punishing the most serious atrocities in cases where states do not do this themselves.

After World War II, the USA, France, Great Britain and the then Soviet Union established an international tribunal, the Nuremberg Court, to judge and punish people who had committed particularly serious crimes in Nazi Germany. They did this because crimes against international law are committed by "men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced". Nineteen senior political and military leaders were sentenced. The Nuremberg process became very significant because it established the legal principle of punishing war criminals which the UN later used as the basis for its work.

From and including the 1990s there has been an important development in international criminal law. Due to the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the UN set up an international criminal tribunal in 1993 to investigate and judge war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in this region. In 1994, a similar tribunal was set up to investigate and judge those responsible for the genocide in Rwanda where as many as one million people were killed. The establishment of these ad hoc tribunals which are established in connection with a particular conflict and which are dissolved when they have completed their work was a big step forward. Similar tribunals have been set up for Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Eastern Timor and Kosovo.

The Permanent International Criminal Court
In 1998, the states agreed to establish a permanent international criminal court. This was very important step. If national authorities are unwilling or unable to try war criminals after wars or conflicts, the International Criminal Court can ensure that this is done. An increasing number of the world's countries are recognising the new court. It is located in The Hague in the Netherlands and started its work on 1st July 2002.



- The permanent International Criminal Court has 18 judges, is located in The Hague in the Netherlands and can punish individuals

- Most countries support the establishment of the International Criminal Court. The USA, China, India and Russia do not support it

Fact box

- The international online media organisation, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (www.iwpr.net), reports daily on cases before the court in The Hague

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