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Professor William Schabas Lecture: The Trial of the Kaiser

Room 403, Business and Law Building


Professor William Schabas, Professor of International Law at Middlesex University 

The Trial of the Kaiser

Room 403, Business and Law Building, City Campus East, Northumbria University

Refreshments will be available in the Corporate Hub (Fourth Floor) from 6.00pm


The modern international criminal justice institutions trace their origin to the period immediately following the First World War. Prosecution of German combatants on charges of war crimes were contemplated but at the centre of the debate was the proposed trial of the fallen German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Lloyd George campaigned in the December 1918 election on a slogan of “Hang the Kaiser”.

The Paris Peace Conference convened in January 1919 and assigned criminal justice issues to a Commission on Responsibilities, composed of 15 leading experts in public international law. The Commission spend two intense months debating the issues, including the subject matter of international criminality, modes of liability, immunity of Heads of State and the structure of an international criminal tribunal. Their Commission’s conclusions were weakened by dissenting opinions from the United States and Japan, and its report was largely ignored when the debate moved to the political level. Over a few days the Council of Four – Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau and Orlando – crafted what because Article 227 of the Treaty of Versailles. It called for trial of the Kaiser by an international criminal tribunal for a “supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties”. After considerable resistance, the Germans accepted the provision. However, the real obstacle was in the Netherlands where the Kaiser had obtained asylum. The Dutch government refused to surrender him for trial.

In this lecture Professor Schabas will discuss his new book, The Trial of the Kaiser, which describes the legal debates as well as the colourful political background. In the New York Review of Books, Isabel Hull cited “meticulous research among the unpublished archival records of this titanic legal struggle”. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Lawrence Douglas described it as “terrifically readable account … a thoroughly engaging account of the ambitious - if confused and ultimately abortive – attempt to bring the German Emperor to trial”.

About the Speaker

Professor William A. Schabas is professor of international law at Middlesex University in London. He is also professor of international human law and human rights at Leiden University, emeritus professor of human rights law at the National University of Ireland Galway and honorary chairman of the Irish Centre for Human Rights. Prof. Schabas is a ‘door tenant’ at the chambers of 9 Bedford Row, in London. He has appeared as counsel before several international and national courts and tribunals including the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights and the Supreme Court of Canada.

Professor Schabas holds BA and MA degrees in history from the University of Toronto and LLB, LLM and LLD degrees from the University of Montreal, as well as honorary doctorates in law from several universities. He is the author of more than twenty books dealing in whole or in part with international human rights law. He has worked as a consultant on capital punishment for the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, and drafted the most recent quinquennial reports of the Secretary-General on the status of the death penalty.

He served as one of three international members of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Assistant in Human Rights, and Chairman of the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict.

Professor Schabas was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2006. He was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2007. He has been awarded the Vespasian V. Pella Medal for International Criminal Justice of the Association internationale de droit pénal and the Gold Medal in the Social Sciences of the Royal Irish Academy.

To register your attendance, please complete the form below. For queries email

Event Details

Room 403, Business and Law Building
Northumbria University
City Campus East
Newcastle upon Tyne


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