In 1946, civilization gasped in horror at its capacity to cause suffering. Again, in the early 1990s, reacting to the horrors of Rwanda and Yugoslavia, the world joined in a further step away from the abyss, and now in West Africa, in Sierra Leone, another bold and noble step has been taken away from the grand jaws of the beast. International criminal trials often are framed as important historical moments. Owing to the scale and gravity of the offences tried, their worldwide reach, and their assumed relevance to the international community, these trials are portrayed as ‘signposts in history’. The opening statement places the trial in time and introduces a narrative about roots in tradition and the historical circumstances that preceded its establishment on the one hand and its innovative character and a perspective on the future on the other. The common sense of civilization is contrasted with the lawlessness of the Nazi leadership.