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William A. Schabas

The Trail Against the Kaiser

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William A. Schabas presents “The Trial of the Kaiser,” an exciting and unique narrative of how the victors of World War I for the first time held a head of state, Kaiser Wilhelm II, accountable based on a new interpretation of international law (German language!)

Edited by Irmtrud Wojak, Holger Buck and Joaquín González Ibáñez.

ISBN: 978-3-949379-06-2
December 2021
11 Ill., ca. 530 pages
  • Description


The history of the first international tribunal

Emperor Wilhelm II on trial

Professor William Schabas elaborates a thorough narrative of the last days of First World War where the victorious nations tried to bring Kaiser Wilhelm II before an international criminal tribunal. The Kaiser had fled to the Netherlands. During the Peace Conference, the Commission on Responsibilities brought international lawyers together for the first time to debate international criminal justice. They recommended trial of the Kaiser by an international tribunal for war crimes. President Wilson agreed on a trial for a ‘supreme offence against international morality’. This became a clause in the Treaty of Versailles, one of the few that the Germans tried to resist. The Kaiser lived out his life in a castle near Utrecht, dying of natural causes in June 1941. This book allows to understand the origins of International Criminal Tribunals and the fight against impunity for crimes relevant to International Law.

William A. Schabas presents “The Trial of the Kaiser,” an exciting and unique narrative of how the victors of World War I for the first time held a head of state, Kaiser Wilhelm II, accountable based on a new interpretation of international law (German language!).

The negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles was based on geopolitical, legal, and psychological processes that shaped the wording of Article 227 of the Treaty. By signing it, Germany agreed to try the Kaiser for “a grave crime against international morality and the sanctity of treaties.” William A. Schabas traces the history of one of the seminal chapters of the 20th century. With a compass that knows how to clearly target the various cardinal points: international law, international relations, history, and politics.

The Treaty of Versailles was born and failed from a political perspective, and the author focuses on this particular aspect to propose a different reading. As if it were Cortázar’s Rayuela (“Heaven and Hell”): the euphoria of the victory, the German surrender, the meetings in Paris and the constant negotiations of the European powers, with the personal presence of President Woodrow Wilson, who brought the United States for the first time to the big table of world politics, form the background for the development of the trial against the Emperor.


About the author

William A. Schabas (Canada) is Professor of International Law at Middlesex University in London, Professor of International Criminal Law and Human Rights at Leiden University, and Professor Emeritus of Human Rights at the National University of Ireland Galway. Schabas is also honorary chair of the Irish Centre for Human Rights. He has been invited as a visiting scholar at the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po) and cooperates as a door tenant with the London law firm 9 Bedford Row.

Schabas holds BA and MA degrees in history from the University of Toronto. He holds LLB, LLM and LLD degrees from the University of Montreal and holds honorary doctorates in law from several universities. He is the author of numerous works on international law and human rights, including “The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law” (2003), “Genocide in International Law” (2009), “Unimaginable Atrocities – Justice, Politics and Rights at the War Crimes Tribunals” (2012), and “The Trial of the Kaiser” (2018). Schabas has worked extensively on the crime of genocide and is committed to preserving the legacy of Raphael Lemkin through his research.

From 2002 to 2004, Schabas served as one of three international members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Sierra Leone. In 2014, he was appointed chair of a UN commission to investigate the Gaza war. On the death penalty, Schabas advised the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

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