How the resources below link to the Citizenship curriculum

Mainly GCSE, but also KS3:

  • International law and the ‘rules of war’.
  • The UK’s relationship with the rest of the world.
  • Parliament holding the government to account.

The development of legal recourse regarding war crimes, an overview of the International Criminal Court (and how it differs from UK criminal courts), and whether or not the use of Trident would be a war crime

How international humanitarian law helped to establish the rules of war

  • The UN’s webpage on war crimes (which differ from genocide, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity) provides a fairly accessible overview of the codification of the law of armed conflict (or ‘humanitarian law’) via the Hague Conventions, and the related-but-different Geneva Conventions (which focus on the protection of non-combatants).
  • For Truman On Trial, it is useful if students have a basic understanding of the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials which can be seen as precedents for the later International Criminal Court.

These sources are suitable for higher-ability KS3 or GCSE students, although they could potentially be scaffolded for differentiation. [could be set as preparatory h/w]

 The International Criminal Court and ‘ad hoc’ International Criminal Tribunals

  • For the purposes of lessons relating to Truman On Trial, the ICC is the most relevant court for students to know about, as it prosecutes individuals (not groups or states) and its jurisdiction is not limited by territory or time period: this 60-second BBC video provides a good introduction. The video can be complemented by this handy BBC article.
The ICC headquarters in The Hague. Photo: jbdodane (Creative Commons license)

To focus on the relevance of this to the UK, which has ratified the Rome Statute which set up the ICC as a court of last resort (to intervene when countries cannot or will not prosecute accused individuals), see:

  • Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s 2018 written Parliamentary statement on the UK’s involvement in – and funding of – international criminal justice.
  • In 2017 the UK and four other ICC states parties appeared uncomfortable with the Court developing ‘greater powers to pursue those deemed responsible for starting wars’ – powers which some campaigners hope might make it possible to try and prosecute politicians such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair (in his case over the controversial Iraq War of 2003-9).

These sources are suitable for higher-ability KS3 or GCSE students, although most of them could be scaffolded for differentiation.

How UK criminal trials work, and how they differ from the ICC

  • In the Truman On Trial lesson, using artistic license we employ a simplified version of a UK trial-by-jury, whereas a real trial of this nature would either take place in the country where the alleged atrocity took place, or (as a last resort) at the ICC at The Hague, tried by judges.
  • For the Crown Prosecution Service’s helpful summary of UK criminal trials by magistrate and jury click here. We leave it up to you and your students to decide if you are trying Truman (or Churchill, if you do that alternative version) posthumously (such trials do not happen in the UK, nor via the ICC, although there have been some fascinating historic UK cases) or if the class pretends to be in post-war times, with Truman brought to trial against the course of history.

These sources are suitable for higher-ability KS3 or GCSE students, although they could potentially be scaffolded for differentiation.

Would the UK’s use of its nuclear weapons be a war crime?

There is considerable debate as to whether or not the use of nuclear weapons always constitutes a war crime. They were – controversially – not included in the list of serious violations in the Rome Statute (which established the ICC). These resources could inform an invigorating extension activity (to Lesson 2, the mock trial) on this question:

  • This engaging article in The Independent exploring whether the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings meant that Truman and Churchill were war criminals. In addition, there is the claim in 1970 by Telford Taylor, one of the chief American prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials, that ‘The rights and wrongs of Hiroshima are debatable, but I have never heard a plausible justification of Nagasaki. It is difficult to contest the judgment that Dresden and Nagasaki were war crimes.’
  • Geoffrey Robertson QC’s article in The Guardian arguing that the Rome Statute effectively does prohibit the use of nuclear weapons. He also cites the ‘fantastical’ UK contention in 1996 ‘that it could lawfully drop “a low-yield nuclear weapon against warships on the high seas or troops in sparsely populated areas”’, and asserts unequivocally that using Trident would be illegal.
  • For information on the UK’s previous actions and stances on international law relating to the use of nuclear weapons, see the fascinating 2018 blog piece by the retired Royal Navy Commander, Rob Forsyth. Forsyth questions the legality of firing Trident missiles and argues that the Ministry of Defence ‘seems to be trying to ensure the buck stops with the submarine captain, who may well be the person least qualified to decide that firing nuclear missiles is appropriate.’
  • Statements on the use of nuclear weapons by Theresa May, David Cameron, and Jeremy Corbyn, outlined here, may also be useful.

These sources are suitable for higher-ability KS3 or GCSE students, although they could be scaffolded for differentiation.  

How to use these resources in your classroom

  • Having researched in small groups (either in the lesson or as preparatory homework) different aspects of the codification of war crimes in international law, and the function of the ICC today (and how it differs from UK criminal courts), students could present their findings to other groups, and take questions (or alternatively write a short overview in the style of an online blog piece).
  • Having studied – either individually or in small groups – different perspectives on the legality of the UK using its nuclear weapons, the class could take part in a debate such as ‘This house believes that it would be legal for the UK to use Trident’. Or instead, they could give group presentations on the topic, or/and write individual essays arguing their point of view.
  • Alternatively, or additionally, students could try to decide on a group of witnesses that they think would be appropriate for a contemporary ICC trial on alleged nuclear weapons war crimes, for example a scientist, a politician, a civilian, and a survivor. This would require initial research, and then debate, in order to reach agreement.
  •  A great follow-up enrichment experience, especially if you have also done Lesson 2 from the Truman On Trial pack,  would be for students aged 15-18 to enter Young Citizens’ prestigious  Bar Mock Trial Competition.

About this webpage

This webpage is one of six collections of topic-specific resources that could be used as part of the Citizenship classroom and homework activities referred to in the ‘Additional information and guidance for Citizenship teachers’ insert of our Truman On Trial pack. To access the pages on the other five topics, click here.

If you’d like further advice on how to implement any of the teaching suggestions from the resources webpages, or the insert, just email