The UNWCC has – over the past few years – seen a significant growth in scholarship, spurred by increased access to its documents and an increased interest in the origins of international criminal law, and its relevance today. Below is a selection of some of the secondary literature and writing that’s informed the writing of Human Rights After Hitler, and provides a useful overview of the field.

Changing the Paradigm of International Criminal Law: Considering the Work of the United Nations War Crimes Commission of 1943-1948.

Dan Plesch and Shanti Sattler.

Plesch and Sattler’s first publication on the UNWCC, this provides an initial overview of the UNWCC’s work and history based on the authors’ research. While predating the full release of the archives, Plesch and Sattler had at this point been granted personal access to the Commission’s archives at the UN. A free/open access version can be found here.

Symposium: The United Nations War Crimes Commission and the Origins of International Criminal Justice

The discovery of so much new material from the UN War Crimes Commission archive and its history has led to new perspectives, understandings, and legal precedents in the field of international criminal justice, and the history of the United Nations.

Much of this took place during and in the months following a two-day symposium organised by the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, and chaired by Justice Richard Goldstone. Responding to the UNWCC’s ‘hidden history’ – ‘one of the best kept secrets in the field’ – a number of leading international academics and practitioners contributed a series of articles on the theme of the UNWCC to the Criminal Law Forum, one of the principal journals on comparative and international criminal law.

All of these publications are relevant to the study of the Commission’s work – with many of them freely accessible without a university or Criminal Law Forum account. A link to the whole issue can be found here. Below is a summary of each article’s scope.

The Splendid Blond Beast: Money, Law, and Genocide in the Twentieth Century

Christopher Simpson

This is a detailed (and influential for subsequent scholarship) examination of prewar, wartime, and postwar relations between US and German sponsored businesses and governments. Drawing upon primary sources and government records, Simpson describes how lawyers, diplomats, and State department functionaries organised a concerted campaign of leniency for Nazi war criminals and others involved in the Holocaust, in order to support a resurgent anti-Communist West Germany. One of the first major targets of this effort was the UNWCC.

Prelude to Nuremberg: Allied War Crimes Policy and the Question of Punishment

Arieh Kochavi. University of North Carolina Press.

Arieh Kochavi examines the early history of war crimes policy, accountability for atrocities, and international humanitarian law among the Allied wartime governments. One of the early historical treatments to treat the UNWCC seriously, Kochavi examines the history of the Commission, paying particular attention to the activities of US representative Herbert Pell, the emergence of the new concept of ‘crimes against humanity’, and the domestic politics of war crimes prosecutions.

Past as Prelude? Wartime History and the Future United Nations.

Edited by Dan Plesch and Thomas G. Weiss

This edited volume on the UN during the Second World War contains a chapter by Dan Plesch looking at Commission and its work. As well as a broad overview of its history, this also assesses the utility of looking at what the UNWCC did as a possible model for contemporary action.

As well as the UNWCC, it also covers a wide range of other less well-known UN organisations, including UNIO (the UN’s early public information/public diplomacy coordination wing) and UNRRA, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, responsible for the coordination of humanitarian and immediate postwar relief.

Historical Origins of International Criminal Law (volumes 1234)

This series of collected articles on the early history of international law contains a wealth of material on the UNWCC, with particular focus on the situation in specific countries and on specific institutional arrangements around particular regions and countries. All of the four volumes contain significant amounts of relevant material, but below are a selection of particularly relevant articles:

Volume 1

  • Before Nuremberg: Considering the Work of the United Nations War Crimes Commission of 1943–1948. Dan Plesch and Shanti Sattler, p437.
  • Defining Crimes Against Humanity: The Contribution of the United Nations War Crimes Commission to International Criminal Law, 1944–1947. Kerstin von Lingen, p475.
  • Late Republican China and the Development of International Criminal Law: China’s Role in the United Nations War Crimes Commission in London and Chungking. Anja Bihler, p507.

Volume 2

  • The War Court as a Form of State Building: The French Prosecution of Japanese War Crimes at the Saigon and Tokyo Trials. Ann-Sophie Schoepfel-Aboukrat, p119.
  • From Tokyo to the United Nations: B.V.A. Röling, International Criminal Jurisdiction and the Debate on Establishing an International Criminal Court, 1949–1957. Lisette Schouten, p177.

Volume 3

  • The Evolution of Persecution as a Crime Against Humanity. Helen Brady and Ryan Liss, p429.

Volume 4

  • Article 17 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Complementarity – Between Novelty, Refinement and Consolidation. Patricia Pinto Soares, p235.
  • The Historical Contribution of International Fact-Finding Commissions. Mutoy Mubiala, p513.
  • China and the War Crimes Far Eastern and Pacific Sub-Commission. Marquise Lee Houle, p661.

When Institutional Design Is Flawed: Problems of Cooperation at the United Nations War Crimes Commission, 1943–1948

Narrelle Morris and Aden Knaap, European Journal of International Law Vol. 28 no. 2, 2017.

In this article, drawing upon heretofore unseen archival documentation, Morris and Knaap explore the reasons for the organisational difficulties and failures of the UNWCC. How did cooperation and information-sharing problems affect its ability to coordinate prosecutions of Nazi war criminals? How did this affect the ability of Allied governments to set it aside after the war? Morris and Knaap also examine the failed attempt to develop independent investigatory powers for the UNWCC.