Skip to main content

Assessing the Impact of the United Nations War Crimes Commission on the Principle of Complementarity and Fair Trial Standards


This article looks at the work of the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC), and its influence on the development of international criminal law. It examines the role the UNWCC played in prosecuting war criminals, and notes the similarities between the UNWCC’s mission and the current structure and role of the International Criminal Court, particularly its focus on the principle of complementarity. The article reviews fair trial standards at the time of the national trials, and provides that many of them are present in current international human rights instruments. Still, the author submits that many trial records are still inaccessible and, as a result, there is not enough evidence to fully analyze the Commission’s efficiency in providing for a fair and impartial trial.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mark S. Ellis.

Additional information

Dr Mark S. Ellis is Executive Director of the International Bar Association (IBA). Dr Ellis served as Legal Advisor to the Independent International Commission on Kosovo and was appointed by the OSCE to advise on the creation of Serbia’s War Crimes Tribunal. He was actively involved with the Iraqi High Tribunal and is a member of the Disciplinary Advisory Panel to the Defence Counsel for the ICTY and ICTR. He also acted as a legal advisor to the defence team of Nuon Chea at the Cambodian War Crimes Tribunal (ECCC). The author would like to acknowledge the exceptional work by Gillian Quinn in helping research and draft this article. The author also wishes to thank Dr Dan Plesch and Shanti Sattler for organising the UNWCC 70th Anniversary Conference at SOAS, University of London in September 2013.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and the source are credited.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Ellis, M.S. Assessing the Impact of the United Nations War Crimes Commission on the Principle of Complementarity and Fair Trial Standards. Crim Law Forum 25, 191–222 (2014).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • International Criminal Court
  • International Criminal
  • National Court
  • Rome Statute
  • Fair Trial