Orientation: War Crimes Trials in Theory and Practice from the Middle Ages to the Present
War crimes trials are not a recent phenomenon. Such trials can be traced back to at least the European Middle Ages. Yet, war crimes trials since 1945 are substantively different from earlier predecessors. This chapter traces the development of the laws of war and war crimes trials from the Middle Ages to the present day. It also offers an assessment of the justifications offered for holding war crimes trials—what they are intended to achieve and what they might actually accomplish. It argues that war crimes trials work best when they focus on procedural fairness and respect for the rule of law, rather than trying to teach broad political or historical lessons.