Practice Relating to Rule 160. Statutes of Limitation
Italy’s IHL Manual (1991) provides: “War crimes are not subject to statutes of limitation.”
At the Trial of First Instance in the Priebke case
in 1996, Italy’s Military Tribunal of Rome held that the criminal prosecution prescribed period of 20 years had elapsed. The charge laid against the accused was “violence and murder of Italian citizens” under Italy’s Military Criminal Code, a war crime but not a crime against humanity according to the Tribunal. Since the sentence would not be life imprisonment – the only crimes (with crimes against humanity and genocide) not subject to limitation under Italian law – the Tribunal held that the prosecution was prescribed. However, this verdict was annulled by the Supreme Court of Cassation, which ordered a new trial.
At the Trial of First Instance in the Hass and Priebke case
in 1997, Italy’s Military Tribunal of Rome held that the charge was both a war crime and a crime against humanity and that, under Italian law and under customary international law (which prevailed over national law), they were not subject to limitations.
The Military Court of Appeals, as well as the Supreme Court of Cassation, confirmed this judgment in the relevant parts.
In 1968, 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, Italy stated that it “favoured the adoption of a convention on the non-applicability of statutory limitation to war crimes”.