Ref. :  000001945
Date :  2001-10-15
Language :  English
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International Criminal Tribunal

International Criminal Tribunal

Author :  Tanella Boni

“Crimes against Humanity” and “genocide” are concepts which have been familiar ever since the course of the 20th century taught us that men are not all equal before laws, that certain humans are capable of subjecting other humans to the worst atrocities without ever having to answer for their actions. Because crimes against humanity exist, it seemed necessary to create some international control mechanisms to regulate the conflicts and to observe Human Rights. But it was necessary to go further. It does not suffice to observe; it is about unmasking the guilty parties who often hide outside of their country’s borders, transferring them to the place of trial, that is to Arusha (Tanzania), for activities that concern the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda), or to The Hague (Netherlands), headquarters of the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia). The role of the ICT is to lead thorough enquiries, assemble evidence, pursue those presumed guilty, condemn them and ensure that they serve their sentence.

A first step in this general will to not let the world wander according to its own devices, to limit the immoderate ambitions of politicians, or of communities —no matter where they be—, was the creation, at the end of the First World War, of the League of Nations whose Headquarters were in Geneva. This organisation united the signatory states of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and was supposed to guarantee peace and security between the states. It did not however prevent Hitler and the Nazis from committing the atrocities with which everyone is familiar.

The League of Nations was replaced in 1945 by the UN (United Nations) with a view to keeping the peace and security on an international scale and developing economic, social and cultural co-operation. Its omnipresence however has not prevented the fact that since the Second World War the world has been subjected to conflicts of an increasingly deadly nature in all four corners of the earth. The weapons used vary, from the bomb to bacteria, but rudimentary weapons may also be used (machetes, as in Rwanda, in 1994). Torture and physical abuse take on new forms. There are always attempts to exterminate part of or the totality of an ethnic and/or religious community. Observation is not enough, we must punish. But how?

It is in order to reply to this question that the UN has created the ICT, before which nobody is above the law. New charges have been pressed against Slobodan Milosevic, the ex-leader of Belgrade, already accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Kosovo in 1999. On 8th October 2001 a magistrate of the ICTY made public a document including thirty-two charges of indictment for inhuman acts which Milosevic is said to be responsible for. Persecution, torture, murder, pillage, illegal imprisonment, the destruction of schools and religious institutions, all with the view of building a “Greater Serbia”.

Genocide perpetrated in Rwanda between April and July 1994 has also shaken the clearest of consciences. Since then abundant literature has been written. Numerous researchers and artists from all disciplines have been seized by the question of Rwanda, the seriousness of which practically escaping international opinion before and at the time of occurrence. Detailed enquiries have been lead by international NGOs (Human Rights Watch, International Federation of Human Rights Leagues etc.) The UN has recognised that serious violations of humanitarian law have occurred in this country. It was necessary to pursue, judge and condemn those (Rwandan citizens or not) presumed responsible for acts of genocide and serious violations of Human Rights perpetrated on Rwandan territory, as well as the Rwandan citizens presumed responsible for such acts and violations of international law committed in the neighbouring countries between 1st January and 31st December 1994. The competence of the Tribunal is thus limited to a certain time and place. This results in a gap in international jurisdiction which is not filled by the ICTY or the ICTR.

Finally, for some time now, Belgian justice has made itself a talking point as a Belgian law of 1993 (modified in 1999) granted universal powers to Belgian tribunals to judge crimes against humanity. The complaints registered in Brussels against foreign Head of States and high-up figures increased: those like Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel, President Laurent Gbagbo and two of his ministers, the former head of the military junta Robert Gueï, President Sassou Nguesso of Congo, and also the petroleum company Total-Fina-Elf. At this stage, we can remember that at the conclusion of a widely followed trial four Rwandans were condemned in Brussels at the beginning of June 2001 for having actively participated in the genocide of 1994 and received prison sentences ranging from 12 to 20 years. Since then, all eyes have been on this Belgian justice which dares defy the impunity of the powerful in this world. Does this mean it would be prepared to go further than the ICT?

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