International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

The Emergence of Justice Norms

An interesting article from the Guardian reports that Winston Churchill favoured executions and life imprisonment without trial for Nazi leaders. These revelations come from this week’s declassification of the diary of Guy Liddell, who was the head of counter-espionage at MI5 (so a pretty reliable source). Churchill’s position was opposed by before Stalin, who wanted to use trials as propaganda, and Roosevelt, who felt the American public would want trials. It seems Liddell also personally disliked the idea that Nazi leaders would be prosecuted for waging a war of aggression because of the precedent it set.

This article made me think about where the concept of transitional justice has developed and disseminated from. I think often the US claims responsibility for the emergence of universal human rights and transitional justice citing American exceptionalism, the Bill of Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt’s role in shaping the UN’s Universal Declaration, etc. The rest of the world seems to reject this position – perhaps because concepts of human rights and transitional justice are so ingrained in society that everyone would like to claim responsibility (and take the US down a peg). However, reading the Guardian’s article, it does seem that the impetus for transitional justice sprung from America. I’m interested in what everyone else thinks about the beginnings of transitional justice. Often I think I’ve been too dismissive of the role of the US in shaping normative values about justice, especially as other states and actors, such the EU/UN/any number of NGOs, are the current transitional justice vanguard. So should the US be credited more for the emergence of transitional justice?

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