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International Courts
The Nuremberg Trials
Comment
October 23, 2009

Among the foreign policy changes anticipated with the coming of the Obama presidency was a more favorable attitude toward the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The United States was one of only seven nations to vote against the Rome Statute which created the International Criminal Court in 1998, and is still not a signatory to the Rome Treaty which created the ICC.

In the 1990s, The International Criminal Tribunal For the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal For Rwanda were both created within the framework of the United Nations as stand-alone institutions to deal with crimes committed during those conflicts. The International Criminal Court was set up as a completely new international organization in 1998 when nations meeting at the Rome Conference presented a treaty for a creation of a new, more comprehensive, body of justice. According to its mandate: "The ICC is meant to be a court of last resort and can only pursue a case when a country is unable or unwilling to do so under its own national system." Headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands, as of 2009, 110 countries have become signatories to the treaty. In December 2000, President Clinton signed the treaty establishing the court, but never submitted it to the Senate for ratification. In 2002, when the treaty gained enough signatories to go into effect, the Bush Administration announced that the US would not participate in the world's first permanent international war crimes court.

The Obama administration did announce in March 2009 that it was "reviewing" the US policy on the ICC. But some critics maintain the administration hasn't moved fast enough to live up to candidate Obama's condemnation of human rights crises like that in Darfur. In October 2009, administration announced a strategy of engagement with the Sudanese government, but also maintains that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir should present himself to the ICC in compliance with an indictment handed down earlier this year. The indictment has raised the ire of many of the US' African allies. To date, three states — Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic — have referred situations occurring on their territories to the Court. In addition, the Security Council has referred to the Court the situation in Darfur, Sudan.

International tribunals have a varied history. In each case precedents are being set for the trials of those accused of international human rights violations, but guidelines are still being written, and each of these cases has had to break a significant amount of new ground. Learn more about some of the international tribunals that have taken a part in paving the way below.

Nuremberg
The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg was one of the two ad hoc international military tribunals (the other being at Tokyo) established after World War II to try individuals who committed war crimes, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.

"In early October 1945, the four prosecuting nations - the United States, Great Britain, France and Russia, issued an indictment against 24 men and six organizations. The individual defendants were charged not only with the systematic murder of millions of people, but also with planning and carrying out the war in Europe." More information about the trials and many of the Nuremberg transcripts are available at "A Look Back at Nuremberg" on the Court TV Web site.

Yugoslavia
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was conceived of as a "new Nuremberg," established to prosecute those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the former Yugoslavia region since 1991. From the time crimes began, the center of the conflict shifted from Slovenia to Croatia, and then to Bosnia, at which point the international community became aware of signs of systematic ethnic cleansing. No international code for this kind of court existed, as precedents set by the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals were based on victor's justice. In the case of Yugoslavia, the tribunal did not have control over the territories in which crimes were committed and perpetrators were located.

In 2003, Retired General Wesley Clark testified against former President Slbodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia. According to the NEW YORK TIMES, Clark "told the court that Milosevic had advance knowledge and command and leadership responsibility for atrocities during the violent breakup of Yugoslavia, including the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims from the town of Srebenica in 1995." Milosevic died in 2006 before the court reached a verdict.

On October 26, 2009, the trial of Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's, who was indicted under Justice Richard Goldstone's leadership of the tribunal, begins in the Hague.

Rwanda
In April 1994, ethnic conflict erupted in Rwanda which resulted in the genocidal murder of about half a million members of the Tutsi tribe by members of the Hutu tribe, and then the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Hutus into the territory of neighboring countries.

The International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) was established to prosecute those responsible for the serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda between January 1, 1994 and December 31, 1994, as well as those Rwandan citizens responsible for similar crimes in neighboring states during the same period. The ICTR is funded by an appropriation from the General Assembly of the United Nations, and more than 80 nationalities are represented at the Tribunal. The international community has been supportive, cooperating with the Tribunal in a number of important ways.

The Tribunal's first indictment was made in November 1995. Since that date, over 70 suspects have been indicted and the trials of thirteen have been completed, resulting in twelve convictions and one acquittal. One of the most significant convictions was that of Jean Kambanda, Prime Minister of the Rwandan Government during the genocide, the first head of government to be convicted for genocide. This is remarkable because it created conditions in which prosecutions could be undertaken against other former heads of state, including General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, President Hissein Habre of Chad, and Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia.

Some of the challenges the court has faced include the need to bring counsel and witnesses from all over the world, and to translate from and into the two official languages of the Tribunal. According to the Tribunal's Web site, one of the crowning accomplishments of the ICTR is its "substantial contribution to the replacement of a culture of impunity by a culture of accountability." Since its inception, the Tribunal has been a model for conflict situations in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, East Timor, and other conflicts around the world.

Learn about the Tribunal's relevance for peace and justice around the world.

Hybrid Courts
The so-called "third generation" of criminal bodies are referred to by the Project on International Courts and Tribunals as "internationalized" or "hybrid" criminal bodies. These include jurisdictions in East Timor, Kosovo, and Sierra Leone, as well as one under negotiation to address crimes of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The name refers to the mixed nature of the judicial system, incorporating both international and national features. All composed of international and local staff, these courts apply a compound of international and national substantial and procedural law.

Learn more from Human Rights Watch and the International Center for Transnational Justice.

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