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Unimaginable AtrocitiesJustice, Politics, and Rights at the War Crimes Tribunals$
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William Schabas

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199653072

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199653072.001.0001

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Unimaginable Atrocities

William Schabas

Oxford University Press

Only the law can define a crime and a penalty: nullum crimen [nulla peona] sine lege. To respect the principle of legality, the scope of the crime and the applicable punishment must be set out in clear terms before its commission. This is affirmed in article 11(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in virtually all human rights treaties and national constitutions: ‘No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed’. Retroactivity is an issue that has obsessed international criminal justice since its earliest days. At the international criminal tribunals, it has been a source of unceasing controversy. Arguments about retroactive prosecution persist at both the judicial and political levels. The development of international criminal law is accompanied by constant attempts to reassess the past.

Keywords:   crime, penalty, international criminal tribunals, international criminal law, retroactive prosecution, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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