Roundtable Discussion on Justice and Accountablility
To mark the 65th anniversary of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg
(9 November 2011)

On 9 November, The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme, in partnership with the International Bar Association, held a roundtable discussion titled “Justice and Accountability after the Holocaust”, in observance of the 65th anniversary of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. The tribunal was an important milestone in history and helped to lay the legal foundation for international tribunals that have followed, as well as the Rome Statute under which the International Criminal Court was established.

Distinguished speakers included Cecile Aptel, Co-Chair of the International Bar Association’s War Crimes Committee and Professor at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University; Irwin Cotler, Member of Parliament and former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada; Patricia Heberer, a historian with the Centre for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and Karen Odaba Mosoti, Head of the Liaison Office of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to the United Nations.  Ramu Damodaran, Deputy Director for Partnerships and Public Engagement, Outreach Division, United Nations Department of Public Information, moderated the discussion. Each of the panellists offered their perspectives of the actions of the German courts under Nazi rule, and the proceedings of the Nuremberg trials.

Cecile Aptel of the International Bar Association spoke about the responsibility of the judiciary not only for the application of law, but for the development of law. She challenged participants when she asked, “What should lawyers and judges do when political systems fail and turn against citizens?”

Patricia Heberer of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum focused her remarks on the discriminatory laws that were upheld in Nazi Germany. She explained that over 400 anti-Jewish laws and exclusionary decrees were developed under Nazi rule.

Irwin Cotler of Canada discussed similarities between the Holocaust and genocides that have followed. He underlined the dangers of state sanctioned hate, indifference, cultures of impunity, and the complicity of the elite. “Judges, lawyers, doctors, engineers, and architects all participated in the Nazi plan”, he said.

Karen Odaba Mosoti of the ICC emphasized that Nuremberg established that men were responsible for the crimes that had been committed under Nazi rule, and not an abstract force. Individuals would be held accountable and could no longer claim they were simply “following orders”. She described the cases that were currently before the court and said they were similar to the Nuremberg crimes but in a current context. According to Ms. Mosoti, one of the major challenges facing the court today is the lack of universal participation. Only 115 countries have signed up to the Rome Statute, which leaves the populations of many countries vulnerable to the worst offences committed by mankind.

A group photo of the panellists and organizers of a roundtable discussion on “Justice and accountability after the Holocaust”,
held to mark the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

The entire discussion and question and answer session can be viewed on the United Nations webcast.

Partners Materials:
Law Justice and the Holocaust, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Press Release: United Nations, International Bar Association to Mark Anniversary of Nuremberg Trials in Round-Table Discussion on Justice, Accountability, 9 November (3 November 2011)