International Penal and Penitentiary Commission (IPPC)

The UN effort to set international guidelines for criminal justice is not without precedent. Roman law was applied within an empire that covered most of Europe and parts of Africa and West Asia. Later, regulation of social conduct incorporated in Islamic law spread across three continents and still forms an important element of many countries' judicial systems.

One of the earliest forms of cooperation between sovereign nations in law enforcement involved efforts to control piracy on the high seas - but measures were often undercut by nations' practice of chartering freelance privateers to harass their rivals.

In the nineteenth century, as large-scale police forces, court systems and prisons began appearing in the major cities, studies on the causes of crime drew widespread attention to thefield of criminology. A series of conferences in Europe, of which the most notable was the First International Congress on the Prevention and Repression of Crime (London, 1872), brought together experts and professionals from various countries. Leading issues under consideration included the proper administration of prisons, possible alternatives to imprisonment, modes of rehabilitating convicts, treatment of juvenile offenders, extradition treaties and the "means of repressing criminal capitalists".

At the close of the London conference, the International Prison Commission (IPC) was formed with a mandate to collect penitentiary statistics, encourage penal reform and convene further international conferences. It later affiliated with the League of Nations and held three conferences in European capitals from 1925 to 1935. At the last of these it was renamed the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission (IPPC).

As the League of Nations foundered on the rocks of global conflict leading to the Second World War, so did the IPPC. At the end of the war, the UN was formed with a brief that included the control and prevention of crime. However, the new Organization declined to affiliate with the IPPC for understandable reasons. Seventy-five years of valuable work and research were tarnished by the heavy hand wielded by the Axis powers in the Commission throughout the Second World War. Having furnished a substantial part of IPPC's funding, the Axis powers used the Commission to publicize their bizarre theories on the racial and biological roots of crime and on draconian measures for its control.

The General Assembly dissolved the IPPC on 1 December 1950, while incorporating its functions and archives within the new Organization's own operations (see General Assembly resolution 415(V) of 1 December 1950).