War Criminals

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

War Criminals


organizers, instigators, directors, and perpetrators of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, together with their collaborators:

The types and elements of these crimes and the measures of punishment that may be used against war criminals were set forth in the statutes of the International Military Tribunals, which tried the chief war criminals in Nurnberg (1945-46) and Tokyo (1946-48), as well as in the law of the Control Council on Germany, dated Dec. 20, 1945. According to these statutes, war criminals may be sentenced to death or other punishment that the court considers just. None of these legal acts mentions the application of the statute of limitations to war criminals. Moreover, the Declaration on the De-feat of Germany on June 5, 1945 (art. 11) indicates that the arrest and extradition of war criminals must be carried out at any time. In the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) during 1964-67 the question of whether war criminals could be pur-sued after the lapse of the terms of the statute of limitations was posed several times. Associated with this was the adoption by the 23rd session of the UN General Assembly (1968) of a convention concerning the inapplicability of the statute of limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Individual responsibility of persons who have committed crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity has been established by a number of international legal acts (declarations, treaties, and agreements). Responsibility for certain types of war crimes (for example, the murder of prisoners of war and the use of force against a peaceful population) has also been established by the criminal legislation of individual countries. The St. James Declaration of January 1942 (Great Britain) provided for the“punishment by an organized court of law of those who are guilty and responsible for such crimes, independent of whether the latter were carried out on their orders, by them personally, or with their collaboration in any form.” The Moscow Declaration of the governments of the USSR, the USA, and Great Britain (October 1943) warned war criminals that the“Allied Powers will surely find them even at the ends of the earth and will hand them over to their accusers so that justice may be done.” In addition to the extradition of war criminals for trial and punishment in those countries where they perpetrated their crimes, the declaration fixed the responsibility of the chief war criminals, whose crimes were not connected with any definite geographic place.

Finally, the question of the responsibility of the chief war criminals was resolved in the agreement concluded in London on Aug. 8, 1945, between the USSR, the USA, Great Britain, and France. In the Potsdam Agreements (July-August 1945) it was again asserted that“war criminals and those who took part in the planning or the implementation of Nazi measures that involved or resulted in atrocities or war crimes must be arrested and handed over to a court.” On Dec. 11, 1946, the UN General Assembly ratified the principles of international law that had been recognized by the Statutes of the Nurnberg Tribunal and were expressed in the sentences handed down by that tribunal.

Already during World War II measures were undertaken in the USSR for the just punishment of war criminals, and trials were held in Kharkov, Smolensk, Krasnodar, Kiev, Minsk, Nikolaev, and other places. Because of the consistent position of the USSR and other peace-loving nations, groups of the chief war criminals were brought before the International Military Tribunals in Niirnberg and Tokyo, and they received the punishment they deserved.

The Soviet Union, which bore the main burden of the struggle against German fascism, has been unwavering in its argument for the steadfast fulfillment of international obligations and the just demands of nations concerning the punishment of war criminals. The USSR has exposed attempts to give shelter to Nazi criminals in the FRG and other imperialist countries. Recognizing that those guilty of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity are subject to trial and punishment, regardless of the amount of time that has elapsed after the crimes were committed, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (as well as many other states, including Poland, Bulgaria, the German Democratic Republic [GDR] and France) adopted a decree on Mar. 4, 1965, concerning the inapplicability of statutes of limitation to these crimes. After the end of World War II, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the GDR, and other countries adopted special laws on the punishment of war criminals. In the socialist countries a great deal of work has been done to investigate Nazi crimes. (Thus, in Poland during 1965-66 alone more than 960 cases were investigated, and 2,150 witnesses were interrogated.)

Bourgeois states have approached the question of the responsibility of war criminals from a different point of view. In a number of imperialist countries efforts have been made to save war criminals from their just punishment, and in the FRG many war criminals who had been turned over to the courts were acquitted without good cause. Violating the obligations that they had undertaken during the course of the war and shortly after its conclusion, the governments of the USA, Great Britain, and certain other countries illegally freed war criminals under various pretexts. They refused to extradite war criminals, who were guilty of the deaths of many thousands of people, to those states that had been the victims of their crimes. Thus, on Jan. 31, 1951, the high commissioner of the USA in Germany reexamined all the sentences handed down by American tribunals and freed many of Hitler’s executioners. In 1954, 120 major war criminals were set free from the British prison in Werl and the American prison in Landsberg only. (Among them were SS Lieutenant General Sepp Dietrich, former commander of the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division, and SS General Kurt Meyer, who had been condemned to life imprisonment for the torture and premeditated murder of hundreds of allied prisoners of war.) Many war criminals have found refuge in the USA, Canada, in a number of countries in Latin America, and Spain.


Poltorak, A. I. Niurnbergskii epilog. Moscow, 1965.
Niurnbergskiiprotsess: Sbornik materialov, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1955.
Raginskii, M., and S. Rozenblit. Mezhdunarodnyiprotsess glavnykh iaponskikh voennykh prestupnikov v Tokio, Moscow, 1950.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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