Imre Finta

25.04.2016 ( Last modified: 03.06.2016 )
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Imre Finta was born on 2 September 1912 in Kolozsvar, a town located at the time in Hungary but today part of Rumania. After law studies during the nineteen thirties, Imre Finta enrolled in the Hungarian Royal Military Academy. He was appointed lieutenant on 1 January 1939. On 5 April 1942, he was promoted to the rank of captain and transferred to Szeged with the title of Division Commander of Gendarmerie Investigations.

The alleged crimes occurred in Hungary at the end of the Second World War, in the context of the Nazi policy to eliminate the Jews. In 1940, Hungary joined the Axis powers and, between 1941 and 1944, adopted a whole range of anti-Semitic laws. In March 1944, German troops invaded Hungary. They replaced the ruling government, which was favourably disposed towards the Axis powers, with an even more servile puppet government. At the time, the Royal Hungarian Gendarmerie figured prominently at the top of the power structure, dominated by the Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler (see ‘related cases’), the supreme Gestapo leader.

On 7 April 1944, the Hungarian Interior Minister adopted the “Baky” decree which provided for a plan to eliminate the Hungarian Jews, modelled no doubt on the one that the Nazis called “the final solution to the Jewish problem”. The execution of this decree which was entrusted to investigative units of the gendarmerie and to local police forces was to be carried out in six stages: isolation, expropriation, confinement to ghettos, concentration camps, before embarkation and finally deportation of the Jews, principally to the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps. The town of Szeged was the location of one of seven concentration camp sites.

During Imre Finta’s time as Divisional Commander of the gendarmerie investigative units in Szeged, 8617 Jews were forcibly held at brickworks in the town in appalling sanitary conditions and with no personal belongings. On 24 and 30 June, they were deported in such inhumane conditions that several of them died during the journey.

After the Second World War, Imre Finta was judged in absentia in Hungary by a Szeged court, found guilty of “crimes against the people” and sentenced to five years of forced labour – a sentence later commuted to five years in prison. In the end, he was able to benefit from a general amnesty proclaimed in 1970

From 1946 to 1951, Imre Finta lived in Germany. He then spent two years in France before leaving for Canada in 1953 where he received citizenship in 1956.

legal procedure

After the Second World War, and within a relatively short period of time, many immigrants suspected of war crimes were granted the right to take up residence in Canada and, for some, to obtain Canadian nationality. In answer to recurring accusations over the years that the government had sheltered Nazi war criminals, an official enquiry, the Deschênes Commission – named after its president who was later to become a judge at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY )– was created in 1985. Its report was published on 30 December 1986. It recorded 744 persons, residing in Canada, who were presumed to be guilty of war crimes and recommended that modifications be made to the criminal code to allow criminal proceedings to be brought against them in Canada. The Commission also recommended changes to the law on extradition and to the laws concerning the repeal of citizenship and expulsion.

On 1 December 1987, Imre Finta became the first suspect to be arraigned under the new law on war crimes, which was adopted following the recommendations of the Deschênes Commission. The resulting trial ended up being a severe test for the new legislation.

On 25 May 1990, Finta was found not guilty, in a Toronto court jury trial, of all eight counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity with which he was charged.

Two factors in this case led up to Finta’s acquittal. On the one hand, there was the impossibility to satisfy the guidance of the trial judge that for each accusation, the defendant had to have been aware that his crimes constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity and, on the other hand, the receptivity of the jury to the defence argument of obedience to superior orders. Even though the “Baky” decree promulgating anti-Semitic measures was contrary to the Hungarian constitution – which Finta must have known, given his legal education – the jury found that, in the context of the violent anti-Semitic climate reigning at the time, these orders might not have appeared to be clearly illegal.

The Crown appealed this verdict but, in April 1992, the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to grant permission to take official appeal proceedings against the acquittal verdict.

A further appeal to have this decision reversed was then lodged with the Supreme Court of Canada.

On 24 March 1994, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected this appeal (by four judges against three), in a close verdict reflecting many dissident opinions.

The final judgement and acquittal of Finta therefore brought to an end any hope of taking up proceedings against Nazi war criminals who had taken refuge in Canada.

From 1995 onwards, the Canadian government, in a change of tack, announced that it preferred administrative measures such as revoking citizenship and expulsion to judicial proceedings. Concretely, this meant that the government no longer had to prove that the persons concerned were war criminals but rather that they had entered Canada or had obtained Canadian nationality on the basis of false statements.

Imre Finta died in Canada in December 2003.



The period in question was highly influenced by the publication of the report of the Deschênes Commission and the measures adopted as a result of its recommendations, such that the Finta case became the subject of intense debate. For many, this case brought to a complete end any prosecution of war crimes by Nazi refugees in Canada. For others, Finta had simply served as a guinea pig for the application of the new legislative changes and had been used as a scapegoat for all of the other refugee Nazi war criminals in Canada.

The Finta trial raised numerous judicial and procedural questions.

Amongst these were: the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction; the means of defence; the moral element of the offence; the fundamental rights of the accused as recognised by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (notably the respect of the presumption of innocence, the right to trial within a reasonable period of time and the right to be informed without undue delay of the specific charges); the admissibility of certain kinds of evidence and the role of the trial judge with respect to the jury.

The opinion of the Ontario Court of Appeal refusing permission for the acquittal verdict to be officially appealed was written up by Louise Arbour, who was later to become Prosecutor of the ICTY and the ICTR and is now High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations.

The Finta affair was regularly cited in the debates of the preparatory conference for the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which dealt in detail with the defence argument of obedience to superior orders .


After the Second World War numerous trials against war criminals and those responsible for Nazi crimes took place in Germany and other countries. It is not possible here to give an overview of all the trials. Below are the main facts concerning the major trials of war criminals at Nuremberg.


The German armed forces surrendered unconditionally on 7-8 May 1945. The Allies (USA, Soviet Union, Great Britain and France) took over all governmental functions in Germany, instituted the Allied Control Council and divided Germany into four zones of occupation.

After the adoption of the London Charter of 8 August 1945, the Allies set up the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in order to judge the major German war criminals. Annex III of the Agreement contains the Statute of the International Military Tribunal (IMT Statute [2]).


According to Articles 1-3 of the London Charter, war criminals with offenses having no particular geographical location were to be judged by the IMT. However in accordance with Articles 4 and 6 of the Convention, the principle of territoriality was to apply to the other German war criminals, with the courts of those states where crimes had been committed having the competence to try these criminals on the basis on their national laws.

Crimes within the jurisdiction of IMT:

– Crimes against peace;

– War crimes and

– Crimes against humanity (Article 6 of IMT Statute).

The IMT was composed of four judges and four substitutes who were appointed by the four Allied powers (Article 2 IMT Statute). In application of Article 13 of the IMT Statute, the Tribunal drew up its own Rules of Procedure

The IMT indicted 24 people in total. The trials took place from 14 November 1945 until 1 October 1946. Twelve defendants were sentenced to death, three were acquitted and seven others were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment. In one case, the procedure was suspended for health reasons and in another the defendant committed suicide before his trial.

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