Side Events: 16th Assembly of States Parties - From Nuremberg to The Hague and Beyond: Critical Reflections of the State of Criminal Justice Today

By Sophie Bones, PILPG Law Fellow

The International Nuremberg Principles Academy is an organization that promotes international criminal justice and human rights. They do so by imparting invaluable knowledge via training on the investigation and prosecution of international crimes at the national level. Their mission is to assist states in doing better domestically. Dr. Serge Brammertz, Chief Prosecutor of the ICTY and President of the Academy, gave Africa as an example of how their work is impactful. He says the biggest problem in regard to investigating and prosecuting crimes in Africa is lack of knowledge. In the past year, they have done training sessions in Kenya, South Sudan and Rwanda bringing the expertise of those who work at international criminal tribunals to (mostly) local prosecutors. The Academy uses a case study developed from Security Council reports and established evidence to provide a realistic simulation for the domestic prosecutors to practice with. This is sent in advance, giving participants time to prepare fully. The training sessions train participants in a range of skill sets, from the use of evidence to witness interviews. In the next year they are bringing training to the Central African Republic, Côte D’Ivoire, Senegal, and Mali.

The Academy members reflected on challenges to international justice generally, and took the closing of the ICTY as a moment to reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t. Their main lessons when thinking about the future were threefold.

Firstly, that we missed the mark in terms of the limitations of the criminal justice process. In the future, we need to be realistic about what it can achieve, because the reality is that the current court system doesn’t live up to promises contained in the statutory preambles regarding peace and reconciliation. Criminal tribunals can contribute in important ways, but they cannot solve the problem of peace by themselves.

Secondly, transitions require much more than criminal justice. They require dialogue, societal and legal reforms, and a struggle with the truth. Capacity building in national governments is key to successful transitions.

Finally, the complementarity principle must be fulfilled. It is this principle that empowers states to prosecute crimes themselves, and the ICC should be a last resort.

Personal observations:

Complementarity is the principle that states, first and foremost, bear the responsibility to prosecute crimes domestically, and that the ICC is merely complementary to the domestic criminal system. This is a continuing issue at the ICC, and is seen as one of the most important components of fighting impunity. The ICC can only try so many cases, and only the most senior of officials. Domestic mechanisms are more suited to broader prosecutions encompassing a range of actors. The Academy seeks to enforce and encourage this principle by equipping the necessary domestic prosecutors with the tools to successfully take on these cases. They are seeking to bridge the gap between the crimes being committed and the accountability mechanisms set up to deal with them. This will be an important part of the future for international criminal justice. PILPG is involved in a number of transitional justice projects, for example in South Sudan with the proposed Hybrid Court, and it is work like this that ensures such mechanisms are staffed by competent prosecutors who are fully able to deal with the intricacies of war crimes prosecutions.