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Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Print Price: $56.95

360 pp.
156 mm x 234 mm


Publication date:
September 2016

Imprint: OUP UK

The Birth of the New Justice

The Internationalization of Crime and Punishment, 1919-1950

Mark Lewis

Series : Oxford Studies Modern European History

Until 1919, European wars were settled without post-war trials, and individuals were not punishable under international law. After World War One, European jurists at the Paris Peace Conference developed new concepts of international justice to deal with violations of the laws of war. Though these were not implemented for political reasons, later jurists applied these ideas to other problems, writing new laws and proposing various types of courts to maintain the post-World War One political order. They also aimed to enhance internal state security, address states' failures to respect minority rights, or rectify irregularities in war crimes trials after World War Two.

The Birth of the New Justice shows that legal organizations were not merely interested in ensuring that the guilty were punished or that international peace was assured. They hoped to instill particular moral values, represent the interests of certain social groups, and even pursue national agendas. When jurists had to scale back their projects, it was not only because state governments opposed them. It was also because they lacked political connections and did not build public support for their ideas. In some cases, they decided that compromises were better than nothing.

Rather than arguing that new legal projects were spearheaded by state governments motivated by "liberal legalism," Mark Lewis shows that legal organizations had a broad range of ideological motives - liberal, conservative, utopian, humanitarian, nationalist, and particularist. The International Law Association, the International Association of Penal Law, the World Jewish Congress, and the International Committee of the Red Cross transformed the concept of international violation to deal with new political and moral problems. They repeatedly altered the purpose of an international criminal court, sometimes dropping it altogether when national courts seemed more pragmatic.

Readership : Historians of war crimes and international law, human rights, genocide, and the League of Nations and United Nations.


  • "These chapters are small monographs, most of which are extremely well researched on the basis of archival sources and bring many new insights. Yet their sum does not create a history of international criminal law, but a detailed critical commentary on many of these histories of international criminal law. It is the great merit of this book that it carefully traces the discontinuities, the fissures and inner contradictions, and not least of all the political contingencies, which characterize the development of international criminal law. And nevertheless, as Lewis makes clear, the particular fragments remain in memory, surfacing again as reference points and not disappearing from history. In this sense, it is an immensely stimulating work worth reading."

    --Rainer Huhle, Nürnberger Menschenrechtszentrum August 2014

  • "Besides stimulating new insights for those already familiar with this fascinating subject, The New Justice can be highly recommended to those seeking an entry point into the field."

    --William A. Schabas

1. Nineteenth Century Precursors of an International Criminal Legal System
2. The Birth of the New Justice at the Paris Peace Conference
3. Crimes against Humanity and Crimes of Denationalization: The Victory of Political Expediency Over Justice
4. Blueprints for International Criminal Courts and Their Political Rejection in the 1920s
5. International Terrorism in the 1920s and 1930s: The Response of European States through the League of Nations and the Attempt to Create an International Criminal Court
6. The Search for a Victim-Centered New Justice, 1942-1946: The World Jewish Congress and the Institute of Jewish Affairs
7. The Genocide Convention: The Gutting of Preventative Measures, 1946-1948
8. Revising the Geneva Conventions, 1946-1949: Synthesizing the Old and New Justice

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Mark Lewis is the co-author of Himmler's Jewish Tailor: The Story of Holocaust Survivor Jacob Frank, the oral history of a Polish Jew who was the head of a clothing factory at the SS-run labor camp on Lipowa Street in Lublin, Poland. Lewis received a Ph.D. in European history from the University of California, Los Angeles, and is an associate professor of European history at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York.

Writing History - William Kelleher Storey and Towser Jones
Genocide on Trial - Donald Bloxham
The Nuremberg Military Tribunals and the Origins of International Criminal Law - Dr. Kevin Jon Heller

Special Features

  • Winner of the 2015 Bronis/law Geremek Prize; Winner of the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History 2013.
  • Explains how World War I catalyzed the idea of international prosecution for war crimes, and why this idea was applied to many different types of crimes in the following decades.
  • Analyzes the diverse reasons why legal and non-governmental organizations either supported or opposed international criminal courts.
  • Challenges the idea that European jurists developed international criminal laws solely from liberal and humanitarian motives.
  • Presents new information about the ideas and activism of jurists such as Nicholas Politis, Vespasien Pella, Henri Donnedieu de Vabres, Raphael Lemkin, Jacob Robinson, Hersch Lauterpacht, and Jean Graven.