World War I Peace Treaties (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
After World War I, the Allied and Associated powers concluded a series of peace treaties with the so-called Central powers: Germany (at Versailles, June 28, 1919), Austria/SaintGermain (September 10, 1919), Bulgaria (Neuilly, November 27, 1919), Hungary (Trianon, June 4, 1920), and Turkey, (Sèvres, August 10, 1920). Turkey fought successfully against the implementation of the August 10 treaty, and a new peace agreement was negotiated and signed at Lausanne, July 24, 1923. The United States Senate refused to ratify the treaties, however. Instead, the U.S. government concluded separate peace treaties with the former Central Powers.
None of the peace treaties concluded after World War I contained dispositions concerning the punishment of genocide. Within the context of the overall fighting, there had been many armed conflicts, which led to radical population reductions and even to the total disappearance of some races and nations, but at that time international law did not recognize specific rules on their prohibition and punishment. On the other hand, there were dispositions in the treaties connected with violations of the laws and customs of war.
Article 227 of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles merits special attention, because it called upon the Allied and Associated powers to publicly arraign the defeated German emperor, William II of Hohenzollern, on the charge of having committed a supreme offense against international morality and the sanctity of treaties. It further called for the constitution of a special tribunal to try the accused, and assured the former emperor the guarantees essential to the right of defense. The tribunal was composed of five judges, one each to be appointed by the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan.
The former emperor, however, had taken refuge in the Netherlands, whose government refused his extradition, arguing that the crimes alleged in the arraignmentupreme offenses against international morality and the sanctity of treatiesad no counterpart in the articles of the Dutch Penal Code. William II never appeared before an international tribunal, and no judgment was ever rendered on him.
Article 228 of the Treaty of Versailles contained the following disposition:
The German Government recognizes the right of the Allied and Associated Powers to bring before military tribunals persons accused of having committed acts in violation of the laws and customs of war. Such persons shall, if found guilty, be sentenced to punishments laid down by law. This provision will apply notwithstanding any proceedings or prosecution before a tribunal in Germany or in territory of her allies.
Articles 229 and 230 of the treaty concerned the composition of the tribunals, the accused's right of defense and right to counsel, and the obligation of the German government to cooperate in furnishing evidence of any crimes alleged and brought before tribunals.
The Allied powers suspected that more than 900 German soldiers had violated the laws and customs of war. Among the suspects were some of the top generals in the German High Command. From this great number, however, only twelve individuals stood accused before the Tribunal of Leipzig. Of these, only six were found guilty. They received prison sentences not to exceed four years.
There were identical dispositions in the corresponding articles of the peace treaties concluded with other defeated Central Powers, (Articles 173 to 175 of the treaty of St. Germain, Articles 118 to 120 of the Neuilly treaty, Articles 157 to 159 of the Trianon treaty, and Articles 228 to 230 of the treaty of Sèvres). In the turmoil of the postwar period, however, these provisions were not applied. None of the treaties included rules that might be brought to bear against citizens of a victorious state who might be accused of violating the laws and customs of war.
SEE ALSO Impunity; Minorities
Appleman, J. A. (1971). Military tribunals and International Crimes. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
Lachs, M. (1945). War Crimes: An Attempt to Define the Issues. London: Stevens.
Schwarzenberger, G. (1968). International Law as Applied by International Courts and Tribunals. Volume 2: The Law of Armed Conflict. London: Stevens.
G. G. Herczegh