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International courts and tribunals have been active for close to two decades and yet the impact of their work remains questionable. One the one hand these Courts demonstrate that individuals responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes and against humanity are no longer above the law and can be prosecuted. On the other hand, only a few individuals have been brought before justice and no Western politician has ever been brought to trial. This begs the question: are these tribunals more symbolic than efficient, and merely an instrument for the more powerful Western States? (Open Democracy)
This Human Rights Watch essay examines the development of a "system" of international justice in the 1990's, consisting of ad hoc tribunals, the International Criminal Court and other international mechanisms. It further assesses the challenges facing international justice and gives recommendations to strengthen the existing institutions.
The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution in which it asks all member states to criminalize piracy under their domestic law and to prosecute "pirates" apprehended off the coast of Somalia. The Security Council has also requested Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to present a report on possible options for prosecuting and imprisoning the suspects. This indicates that the Security Council is considering the possibility of setting up an international tribunal to try pirates. (All Africa)
At the nuclear security summit in Washington this week, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende proposed the creation of a new international tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands, to hold violators of ‘nuclear crimes' accountable. Göran Sluiter, a professor of International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam, considers this an unnecessary proposal as nuclear crimes can be prosecuted in existing courts such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. He assumes that Balkenende's proposal was motivated by a desire to boost The Hague's prestige as "the legal capital of the world" rather than sincere concerns over nuclear security. (NRC Handelsblad)
In 2002, the Rwandan government launched multiple Gacaca courts to prosecute perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in a traditional way. Contrary to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, that has only tried 13 cases in 14 years, Gacaca courts have dealt with approximately 200,000 cases. In spite of the caseload they handle, Gacaca courts are subject to criticism because they mainly focus on reconciliation and because the judges do not have a legal education. (Radio Netherlands Worldwide)
The Institute for Security Studies provides an extensive overview of issues related to international justice, from the African perspective. Although more countries use international justice to deal with human right violators, international tribunals must not substitute national and traditional justice, but complement them instead. Depending on the context of a conflict, using non-judicial institutions such as truth and reconciliation commissions can be more appropriate than establishing international tribunals.
Post-conflict societies often make a choice between conducting criminal prosecutions and using truth and reconciliation commissions (TRC's) as an approach to reconciliation. The author argues that these two methods are actually "two sides of the same coin: transitional justice", and that there can be a complementary relationship between the two. For instance, as TRC's typically cause less political upheaval in fragile post-conflict situations, they can serve to create initial records of atrocities committed. Criminal prosecutions could then take place later. (Pambazuka)
The International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Rwanda (ICTR) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) will close by the end of 2010. The authors of this Hague Justice Journal
article therefore discuss the possibilities of transferring the ongoing obligations of these courts to other institutions. These obligations include supervision of prison sentences, oversight of earlier convictions and witness protection. The writers also state that postponing the closing date of the tribunals is the best short-term option because it gives the courts extra time to assess long-term residual functions and mechanisms.
This Institute for War and Peace Reporting article argues that the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia "are running out of time and money." The author points out the direct relationship between the courts' performance and "key" UN member states' willingness to offer financial support. Analysts consider the change in UN leadership in January 2007 as a new opportunity for the tribunals to push for additional funding and greater cooperation from the international community in capturing fugitives.
The author writes about the growing trend towards holding political leaders in Africa accountable for crimes such as corruption, rape and genocide. Not only are national courts taking action against former leaders such as Liberian Charles Taylor, but the Ivory Coast, Congo and Uganda have all invited the International Criminal Court to investigate the actions of armed groups. Although many of the court actions are politically motivated, observers believe the shift demonstrates a movement where impunity will not be tolerated. (Washington Post)
Nuremberg Trials' participants worked hard to introduce the rule of law and due process into international law, hbut international justice has "seemed to disappear from the world's priorities" for over 50 years. The US has turned away from the principles of Nuremberg, as demonstrated in the trial of Saddam Hussein, treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, "mock[ing] the notion of legal norms." (Find Law)
In this Radio Free Liberty/Radio Europe
article the author explores the many barriers encountered when placing former rulers on trial. Although the number of leaders placed on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity has escalated in the last decade, issues such as due process, security and sheer length of proceedings remain problematic. Hence, in spite of increased efforts justice continues to remain "elusive."
On the 60th anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg trials, the post-World War II tribunals should be remembered not as relics of history, but as enduring influences on international justice today. Even after sixty years, however, the continued success of international criminal tribunals has not resulted in the goal of ending ethnic conflict. People all over the world will achieve this goal only by combining international law with international civic education. (Boston Globe)
Critics of international tribunals have long argued that the threat of prosecution encourages dictators to cling to power and turn down peace accords. However, the author of this International Herald Tribune article holds that the cost of granting impunity to human rights violators is much higher. With a lax standard of justice, he states, prospective tyrants would face no deterrent factor, and the result would be extended dictatorships and prolonged conflicts.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report calls for the establishment of a Special Court to probe war crimes and human rights abuses committed during Afghanistan's civil war. Afghan war criminals currently enjoy impunity "in the name of national reconciliation," an indulgence HRW considers to be an "insult to victims and an affront to justice." Arguing that many high-level officials in Kabul are implicated in serious crimes, the report recommends that the court have a majority of international judges.
The World Tribunal on Iraq, a project of the global antiwar movement, investigates "legal and moral culpability for documented crimes" committed by the US government in its war against Iraq. Despite critics' accusations that the Tribunal is biased and unwarranted, this truthout article points out that it plays an important role in "filling in the gaps where governments and even the United Nations are unable and unwilling to act."
Following a request by UN Security Council, the government of Burundi has agreed to establish a truth commission and a special court to investigate war crimes committed during the country's forty-year civil war. Though national, the bodies would comprise some international judges to "lend fairness to conclusions." Despite government backing, not all Burundians support the commission: some question its effectiveness and propose the establishment of a special UN tribunal. (Integrated Regional Information Networks)
In a rare positive observation from the "Challenges of International Criminal Justice" conference in Tanzania, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Prosecutor Hassan Jallow said international courts have succeeded because they have at least prosecuted those responsible for serious crimes. Despite ongoing criticism of the international courts in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, Jallow claimed "national systems or other quasi-criminal international procedures" cannot handle colossal human rights violations. (Integrated Regional Information Networks)
This UN Press Release discusses the UN's administration of justice, which cannot function without substantial financial support. Though some speakers at the General Assembly's Fifth Committee meeting "expressed concern" over the hiring freeze in the former Yugoslav and Rwanda tribunals, nothing can change unless member states substantiate their verbal commitments by paying their contributions.
The International Herald Tribune says the standstill in Slobodan Milosevic's war crimes trial is "a harbinger" of obstacles to justice in the Yugoslavia tribunal, Rwanda tribunal, and special court for Sierra Leone. The author says these courts have not yet backed down on their responsibility to justice and that judges must continue to ensure fair and speedy trials for the accused, even if they do not want to cooperate.
During a UN Security Council debate on the rule of law, several members said the cost of war crimes tribunals is a small price to pay in comparison with the cost of war. "With an international community prepared to spend almost one trillion US dollars a year on weapons," argued Jordan's Ambassador, "how can we say that anything we have spent thus far on justiceâ€¦ is too expensive?" (Associated Press)
Human Rights Watch urges the UN Commission in Ivory Coast to ask for an international investigation on human rights violations in their final report to the Secretary General. Lack of justice in the country caused by rebel strongholds and corruption in national courts has spurred escalating violence despite three peace agreements and the presence of UN peacekeepers.
A group bringing together Cote d'Ivoire's rebel movement and four main opposition parties urged the United Nations to establish an international tribunal investigating human rights violations committed in the country since 2000. NGOs back the initiative, underlining the importance of investigations of violations by government as well as rebel forces. (Integrated Regional Information Networks)
A Dutch court convicted former Ugandan army colonel, Sebastien Nzapali, of torture. The trial was the first under the Netherlands' 1988 Implementation Act to the UN Convention against Torture. (Integrated Regional Information Networks)
Those who held power before the Guatemalan peace agreement in 1996 are sabotaging its judicial system in an effort to escape justice. In response, the United Nations has proposed a commission to investigate these "illegal" groups. Lawyers see the commission as a "new and unique form of international justice" and an alternative to international tribunals. (Radio Netherlands)
Former Congolese military officer Sebastien Nzapali stands trial in a Dutch court for violating the 1984 United Nations Convention against Torture. Legal experts consider the trial as an important case for the Netherlands and other countries party to the convention. (New York Times)
Liberia's Human Rights Commission has accused pro-Taylor militia fighters of killing more than 360 civilians in a massacre in 2003. The Commissions President, Dempster Brown, pointed out however, that both supporters and enemies of former Liberian president Charles Taylor committed atrocities during the country's civil war and called for the creation of a special court to prosecute warlords from all sides. (Reuters)
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said he would hand over former Liberian President Charles Taylor to Liberia if Taylor were tried in a war-crimes court. Liberia's Justice Minister, Kabinah Janneh, has rejected the idea of establishing a war-crimes court in Liberia, thus jeopardizing the possibility of trying Taylor at home.(Associated Press)