Practice Relating to Rule 160. Statutes of Limitation
Poland’s Penal Code (1997) provides for the non-application of statutory limitations to war offences and crimes against peace and humanity.
In 1967, during a debate in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on the question of the punishment of war criminals and of persons who have committed crimes against humanity, Poland stated:
17. The preliminary draft convention on the non-applicability of statutory limitation to war crimes and crimes against humanity … which the Committee had before it deserved its support …
18. The principle of the non-applicability of statutory limitation to war crimes and crimes against humanity, which was one of the basic principles of international law, was properly formulated, confirmed and sanctioned in the preamble to the preliminary draft convention. The responsibility of war criminals and of persons guilty of crimes against humanity was defined by instruments of international law where application of statutory limits was not provided for. The judgment of the International Military Tribunal of Nürnberg had not been an arbitrary decision by the victorious Powers: it had been an application of international law already in force on 8 August 1945, when the charter of the Tribunal had been adopted. The responsibility of war criminals and of persons guilty of crimes against humanity was based on instruments and principles of international law which took precedence over any country’s domestic laws. National legislation therefore could not apply statutory limitation to crimes which international law specifically excluded from such limitation. Many States whose internal legislation provided for such limitation in respect of offences under the ordinary law had borne that out by reaffirming the non-applicability of statutory limitation to war crimes.
25. No one seemed to question the basic principle of the non-applicability of statutory limitation to war crimes. The crimes committed during the Second World War had been particularly barbarous and cruel, and the memory of the millions of victims of the Nazi terror made it imperative to adopt all necessary measures so that those who had perpetrated the crimes would not go unpunished.