The Timeline: International justice

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The Independent Online

1274 BC: Ancient justice

International justice is an antique. One of earliest treaties extant is between Egypt and the Middle-Eastern Hittite Empire which, alongside a concern for spheres of influence, also made provisions for the extradition of fugitives. The gods of both nations were "enlisted" as guardians of the agreement.

1st Century BC: The idea of law

The intellectual heart of international justice owes its genesis to a gaggle of Greek and Roman thinkers. Aristotle came up with the idea of universal standards of behaviour by which all states and peoples should live. But it falls to Cicero and the Stoics to refine it.

1758: Codification

Cicero fathered the notion of international justice, but it took millennia for anyone to codify the laws and theories which guaranteed it. Swiss diplomat Emmerich de Vattel publishes his Law of Nations, the world's first systematic international law treatise and arguably the most influential.

1919: A (non) permanent court

After the First World War, the Allies set up the Permanent Court of International Justice (an adjunct of the new League of Nations) to ensure disputes between leaders never again led to such slaughter.

1945-46: Nuremberg

The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg opens on 18 October 1945 with the indictment of 24 Nazi war criminals. Sir Norman Birkett, Britain's Nuremberg judge, sums up its significance elegantly: "Aggressors great and small will embark on war with the certain knowledge that if they fail they will be held to grim account."

2002: A global court

Although there had been ad-hoc war crime tribunals throughout the 1990s for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, it took until 2002 for the world to get its first standing International Criminal Court. A product of the Rome Statute 1998, it can exercise its jurisdiction only when national courts are unwilling or unable to investigate. It now has 24 ongoing trials. As the battle for Libya continues in Tripoli, the courts are currently pursuing Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and Libya's head of military intelligence, Abdullah al-Senussi.