The judgment of Nuremberg left no more room for justification of the Nazi regime. The trial had initiated, the concept that the most serious crimes against international law must not go unpunished, stated Mr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Saturday.
On the 75th anniversary of the start of the Nazi war crimes trials in Nuremberg, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier praised its importance for the development of universal international criminal law. The main war crimes trial in Nuremberg was a revolution. It wrote not only legal history but also a new chapter in world history, stated President Steinmeier at a ceremony in Hall 600 of the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. Without the trial there would be no International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Before the Nuremberg Trials, international law was a "matter of states", "not of individuals". The most powerful figures of a state stood before a court for the first time in Nuremberg, accused of the gravest crimes the world had ever seen: for unleashing a war of aggression, for war crimes and for crimes against humanity, emphasised Mr. Steinmeier.
This is where the "groundbreaking idea" of the Nuremberg Trials of Major War Criminals and its twelve successor trials emerged: Those in government office and senior civil servants who had issued heinous orders were no longer to hide behind immunity under international law. Those who received the orders were no longer to claim the defence of superior orders.
"Without Nuremberg, genocide would not be punished as a criminal offense"
On November 20, 1945, leading National Socialists had to answer for the first time in history as representatives of an injustice regime. Without Nuremberg, warlords in Serbia, Croatia or Rwanda would not have been held to account over mass murder, torture or rape, nor would genocide be prosecuted as a crime, observed German President.
Twenty-one defendants including Adolf Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess and Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring were brought before an international court in room 600 of the Palace of Justice by the Allies. After 218 days of trial, the Nuremberg Trial ended on October 1, 1946. The court handed down twelve death sentences - one in absentia, three life sentences and four long prison sentences. Three defendants were acquitted.
Hope for closer cooperation with the USA
According to Mr. Steinmeier, strengthening the law in international relations creates the foundation for a supranational order that is necessary for the world. That is the legacy of Nuremberg. We Germans have a special responsibility to carry on and defend this legacy, he emphasised.
The international criminal justice system is exposed to more and more challenges, "also here in Europe". Globally binding norms would be perceived as a restriction of one's own power. The USA, Russia, China, India and other states did not joined the International Criminal Court. Mr. Steinmeier expressed the hope that the US government under the newly elected President Joe Biden will return to a cooperation that also recognizes the value of international criminal justice.
Due to the pandemic crisis, the event in Nuremberg was streamed on the Internet. In addition to the Federal President, Bavaria's Prime Minister Markus Söder and the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda. The foreign ministers of the USA, Great Britain, France and Russia sent video messages.