1899: Representatives of 26 nations met for the International Peace Conference where they drafted the Convention with Respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land, one of the first formal statements of international laws related to war and war crimes. 

1918: World War I ends. An international trial for perpetrators of the Armenian genocide was considered but was never carried out due to the perceived difficulty of the task. 

1933: In Madrid, the League of Nations meets to draw up agreements that would define international crimes. Raphael Lemkin urges international leaders to make a law against the destruction of religious and ethnic groups, but his pleas are ignored. 

1945: World War II ends. Nazi criminals are prosecuted at the Nuremberg Tribunals, the first international trial ever held to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity. The United Nations is established, demonstrating the desire for international coordination to secure peace and prosperity throughout the world. 

1948: The Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide is adopted by the United Nations and includes a provision allowing for international tribunals to prosecute persons charged with genocide. 

1950: The Geneva Conventions, international treaties that limit the barbarity of war, by offering legal protection for wounded soldiers, prisoners of war and civilians, are updated and entered into force. 

1950–1992: Although war crimes and crimes against humanity continue, in places such as Cambodia and Chile, the international community does not come together to prosecute these crimes, and many of the organizers of mass murder go unpunished. 

1992: A civil war begins in Yugoslavia. The international community confronts evidence of mass murder of Bosnian Muslims, and other groups, as well as other human rights abuses. 

1993: The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is created by the United Nations Security Council. 

1994: A genocide in Rwanda results in the death of nearly 800,000 people killed for being Tutsi, or for supporting Tutsis. In its aftermath, the United Nations Security Council establishes the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. 

1995: South Africa establishes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to investigate crimes committed during the apartheid era. The TRC set a precedent for using justice-seeking measures that were outside of traditional court systems. 

1998: At the Rome Conference, a meeting to create a permanent international criminal court, 120 nations affirm the Rome Statute which serves as the foundational document for the International Criminal Court. 

2001: The Rwandan government agrees to adapt Gacaca, a traditional form of village-based conflict resolution, to judge perpetrators of the genocide and promote reconciliation. The use of Gacaca as an alternative to national-level courts provides a model for other nations, such as Uganda, who seek to incorporate local justice customs into their overall approach to judgment and healing after civil war. 

2002: The Rome Statute is ratified by 66 nations. This marks the formal establishment of the International Criminal Court. 

2003–2004: With United Nations support, temporary tribunals are established to prosecute perpetrators of genocide in Cambodia and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone. 

2005: After a referral by the government of Uganda, the International Criminal Court issues its first arrest warrants for rebel LRA leaders in Uganda. 

2008: The International Criminal Court begins its first trial with the prosecution of Thomas Lubanga for crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

2009: The International Criminal Court issues the first arrest warrant for a sitting head of state, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan. 

2010: Member states of the International Criminal Court are scheduled to review the Rome Statute in Uganda. 



International Criminal Courts: The Legacy of Nuremberg,” a summary of the history of international criminal law by Ben Ferencz, prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials.

The multimedia timeline “The Brief History of the International Criminal Court.” 

For more information about International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts, refer to the Global Policy Forum.


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