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From Nuremberg to STL, the rise of international courts

  • File - The Nuremberg Trials are considered an important precursor to the modern application of international criminal law.

BEIRUT: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set to begin at The Hague later this month, follows a decadeslong tradition of international criminal courts. Since the end of World War II, sovereign nations have come together to prosecute perpetrators of acts including genocide and crimes against humanity. “Some international crimes ... are so heinous that they affect all of humanity,” said Anja Mihr, head of the Rule of Law program at The Hague Institute for Global Justice.

To deal with such cases, international courts are formed.

The International Military Tribunal and the subsequent Nuremberg Trials are considered an important precursor to the modern application of international criminal law. According to its original charter, the IMT was established for “the trial and punishment of major war criminals for the European Axis,” and considered only crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Judges from the United States, France, Great Britain and the former Soviet Union passed judgment on 21 suspects from Nazi Germany’s leadership during the trials held in Nuremberg. On Oct. 1, 1946, the court sentenced 12 of the defendants to death by hanging, acquitted three and served the rest with prison terms varying from 10 years to life.

Importantly, one of the accused, Hitler’s private secretary Martin Bormann, was tried in absentia for his crimes, and subsequently sentenced to death. The STL will be the first international tribunal since the IMT to try defendants in absentia.

A similar structure, called the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, was established in 1946 to try Japan’s leadership for WWII war crimes.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), established in 1993, was the first international court to be created since the IMT and the first to be formed under United Nations auspices, as dictated by Security Council Resolution 827.

Citing “reports of mass killings; massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women; and the continuance of the practice of ‘ethnic cleansing,’” the ICTY was granted jurisdiction over four types of crimes.

According to the ICTY’s website, its mandate includes “grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva conventions, violations of the laws or customs of war, genocide and crimes against humanity.”

The ICTY has indicted 161 people since its inception, with 136 proceedings already completed. Several war criminals, including former President of the Serbian Republic Goran Hadzic, were indicted but not tried, in absentia by the ICTY.

All five defendants at the STL will be tried in absentia.

Aside from the ICTY and the STL, nine other international courts have been established under the United Nations.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was created after the 1994 genocide, which killed over a million people in the space of just a few months.

Located in neighboring Tanzania, the tribunal has a mandate similar to the ICTY. The ICTR has completed 44 cases, with many defendants pleading guilty.

As per the Rome Statute, a diplomatic treaty signed in 1998, the International Criminal Court was established in 2002. The ICC considers crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and will try “crimes of aggression” at some point in the coming years. It is the first permanent international criminal court.

The ICC “has jurisdiction when a crime is committed in a country that has signed up to the Rome Statute that is unable or unwilling to try the case, or because the Security Council referred the case to the ICC,” and only considers crimes committed after 2002, according to Mihr. No Arab countries have signed the Rome Statute.

Thus far, 21 cases involving eight different “situations,” as the court calls them, have been brought before the ICC. All involve grave human rights abuses in African countries.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 08, 2014, on page 2.
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Summary

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set to begin at The Hague later this month, follows a decadeslong tradition of international criminal courts.

The STL will be the first international tribunal since the IMT to try defendants in absentia.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), established in 1993, was the first international court to be created since the IMT and the first to be formed under United Nations auspices, as dictated by Security Council Resolution 827 .

Aside from the ICTY and the STL, nine other international courts have been established under the United Nations.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was created after the 1994 genocide, which killed over a million people in the space of just a few months.

21 cases involving eight different "situations," as the court calls them, have been brought before the ICC.


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