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Vespasian V. Pella – A Peace Fighter

Vespasian V. Pella – A Peace Fighter Masters of Diplomacy (I)

It is indisputably mandatory, Vespasian Pella (photo: second from the right, sitting at the table) asserted, to have the following in order to prevent and combat the state “collective crime” – a recognition of the war’s criminal nature, alongside the genesis of international criminal law and legal institutions able to put standards into practice (Pella, 1925). 

A world of conflicts 

The thesis on the state understood as an active subject of criminal law encompasses the idea that if this entity can condemn an individual who violated the law and then punish him, then in the framework of its relations with other members of the international community, the state may infringe the rules of law. If the state is asking an individual to submit to legal and moral standards, the reverse is however obvious when the individual uses his rights to ask the state to respect the rules of conduct within the framework of international relations.

In the author’s vision, the League of Nations had as mission the eradication of war and persuading each member state to submit to its decisions. In order to ensure peace and justice, people must have equal rights at the microeconomic level, undifferentiated from smaller or larger states having the same rights on the macroeconomic international arena.

An important, but still discreet mention of Vespasian Pella has concerned the “contraventions authorized to the society’s leaders”, where he emphasized a definition of politicians seen not only as members of a nation, but also as members of all humanity, affirming so far even humanity’s disappointment towards their thoughtless actions. Politicians have a duty to defend and obtain legitimate rights for their people (Pella, 1925).

In his role as peace and justice advocate, Pella expressed the conviction that public international law has equally accorded importance to the Law of Peace and the Law of War, henceforth both must converge into one: The Law of Peace: “War is a crime. It would be absurd to still conceive of a Law of War, that is to say a Law of Crime” (Pella, 1925).

His dedication and emblematic work have placed him in the pantheon of the most valuable representatives of both the Romanian school of law and the international one. It was between 1928-1937 when he held various honorary positions within the Romanian law and international institutions, in his role of honorary member of the International Law Association and of the International Criminal Police Commission or vice-president of the International Federation of European Cooperation Committees. 

A dream of peace 

Born on January 5th, 1897, in Bucharest, in the family of the lawyer, journalist and well-known politician Vespasian I. Pella, according to the sound of his name and the statements of some acquaintances, he had Aromanian origins.

An important member, first of the Conservative Democratic Party and, later, of the National Liberal Party, his father held senior positions, such as mayor, deputy, and liberal senator. In this setting, the young Vespasian Pella graduated from the Faculty of Law in Iași, then has obtained his PhD in Law from the University of Paris in 1920, with the thesis “Des incapacités résultant des condamnations pénales en droit international” (Tașcă, 2014).

His academic career started with his appointment as associate professor at the University of Iași’s Department of Criminal Law and Procedure through the High Royal Decree no. 1976/7 May 1921, shortly thereafter being promoted to full professor through the High Royal Decree no. 1758/2 June 1924. He started teaching in Bucharest from 1935 until 1948, being invited, in the meantime, to lecture at the Higher International Studies in Paris (1928), at the Institute of the University of Higher International Studies in Geneva (1929) and at the Hague Academy of International Law (1926-1939) (Tașcă, 2014).

His activity was multidimensional, involving theoretical research and the practice of law, especially diplomatic and public. Due to his innovative and militant spirit and the way his passion and advocacy have affirmed his judgement throughout time, Vespasian Pella is known as one of the members of the Great Generation that arose and asserted itself after the Great Union of December 1, 1918. They were determined to capitalize on and sustain the impressive possibilities of the reunited Romanian space, within the concert of the new Europe, dreaming about a world of cooperation, peace and understanding between peoples. 

Restructuring international relations 

Under the pressure of such a context and the great ideals of the time, returned from the French capital, the young Romanian jurist foreshadows an original and daring plan to sustain through law the values ​​of peace and to establish international cooperation for this purpose. Together with Nicolae Titulescu, Vespasian V. Pella is another great Romanian personality involved in the conceptual debate and the practical action of restructuring life and international relations on the foundations of peace and collaboration, around the League of Nations.

His activity in the diplomatic sphere and his ability as a master negotiator were confirmed by his nomination as Romania’s Delegate to the International Danube Commission, which led to him becoming an expert on the Danube issue. In 1936, he participated as a Romanian Delegate, together with Nicolae Titulescu, at the Montreux Conference for the revision of the Straits Regime. He also served as both an Extraordinary Envoy and a Plenipotentiary Minister of the Romanian Legation in the Hague and in Bern. As a representative of the International Red Cross, Vespasian Pella contributed to the saving of a number of Jews during the Holocaust.

He fulfilled multiple diplomatic missions entrusted by the Bucharest executive, especially in matters where the legal component was decisive. In recognition of his legal and diplomatic actions, the President of France awarded him the Cross of Commander of the Legion of Honor.

Vespasian Pella was one of the few diplomats of the old regime who continued his activity after the purge in 1947, being retired on request in November 1948, due to poor health. In the last years of his life, he lived in New York and worked as an expert in international law for the United Nations Headquarters. He died in August 1953, while planning to leave the United States for Geneva to attend the Conference of the International Criminal Law Association. 

A change of paradigm 

Passionate about finding solutions for war crimes, threats against peace and humanity, terrorism, and genocide (Duțu, 2017), Vespasian Pella dedicated his time to advocacy, mostly in French, emphasizing the necessity of creating an international penal law discipline and of building an international penal court, being considered their founder (Ottenhof, 2002).

His masterpiece, “La criminalité collective des États et le droit pénal de l’avenir” (1925), was mentioned by Romanian Senator and Professor, Constantin Dissescu, in his letter addressed to the Nobel Committee in 1926 (Sirbu, 2011) nominating Vespasian Pella for the Nobel Prize for Peace (Sbârnă, 2013).

He had always seen in the international penal law the future of law, a law that “would have as its main object the regulation of the repressive exercise of illicit actions that can be committed by states in their mutual relations”. (Pella, La criminalité collective des États et le droit pénal de l’avenir, 1925) 


Duțu, M. (2017). Vespasian V. Pella – românul științei juridice universale. Pandectele Romane, (5), 231-236.

Ottenhof, R. (2002). L’association internationale de droit pénal et la création de la cour pénale internationale: de l’utopie à la réalité. Revue internationale de droit pénal, vol. 73(1), 15-21.

Pella V.V. (1925), La criminalité collective des Etats et le droit pénal de l’avenir, București, p. 168.

Sbârnă, G. (2013). Vespasian V. Pella – Au service de la Science du Droit et Cause de la Paix. Annals of the Academy of Romanian Scientists, Series of History and Archeology, (2), 95.

Sirbu, V. (2011). The Nobel Peace Prize from a Romanian perspective–the interwar period. Revista Română de Studii Baltice și Nordice3(2), 275-298.

Tașcă, M. (2014). Vespasian V. Pella–fondatorul dreptului internațional penal și promotorul Curții Internaționale Penale. Revista Institutului Național al Justiției29(2), 61-61.

L’Union interparlementaire (1925). Compte rendu de la XXIIe Conférence: tenue à Washington et Ottawa le 13 octobre 1925. Librairie Payot, 1926, p. 205-242, available on : Last acces on January 13, 2021.



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