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What are international criminal courts?

International criminal law is a novelty in the panorama of international law, which, for a very long time, saw the various courts only intervene in disputes between states. It was only after the Second World War, that the project of referring those responsible for the most serious crimes (genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity) to an international court came to life.

The International Criminal Tribunals, therefore, were conceived to be jurisdictional bodies, competent for the repression of individual activities detrimental to goods protected by international law.

In this regard, the team of International Lawyers Associates has also offered, and still offers, its assistance in matters of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression, guaranteeing the defence of any individual.

The common characteristic of these bodies is their establishment, which occurs after the commission of the crimes they are called upon to judge, their limited territorial and temporal jurisdiction, and finally their temporary nature; in fact, they are destined to become extinct when their function is completed.

For the reasons outlined above, the International Criminal Tribunals established over the years by the Security Council are called ‘special’ or ad hoc international criminal tribunals, and their establishment is based on competence for the maintenance of international peace and security; in this they differ from the International Criminal Court, which instead has general competence and a permanent character.

In this respect, one must be very careful and distinguish these Tribunals from the so-called ‘mixed’ or internationalised criminal tribunals, which arise from cooperation between a state and the UN and combine elements of domestic and international law in a way (examples of these Tribunals were those for crimes in Sierra Leone, East Timor, Cambodia, Lebanon).

Those wishing to receive legal assistance involving serious and competent international legal cooperation can turn to the International Lawyers Associates team; this team of lawyers boasts the collaboration of some of the best lawyers specialised in representing clients before the most authoritative national and international authorities.

Legal assistance in this field requires constant updating and in-depth knowledge of all international legislation; all skills that the International Lawyers Associates ILA Law Firm, coordinated by Criminal Lawyer Alexandro Maria Tirelli, is able to provide in an extremely serious and qualified manner.

International criminal tribunals so far established

The first experiences with international criminal tribunals were the 1945 Nuremberg and Tokyo Military Tribunals, in which Nazi and Japanese war criminals were tried.

Subsequently, in 1949, the UN Commission on International Law devised a ‘draft’ code on crimes against the peace and security of mankind and at the same time appointed a committee to codify these crimes.

However, it was not until 1989 that the UN General Assembly resumed work on the International Criminal Court.

At the same time, however, between 1993 and 1994, the bloody conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda erupted, and war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide (in the form of ‘ethnic cleansing’) made the subject of international criminal law more topical than ever; in the light of this, the Security Council decided to set up ‘ad hoc’ tribunals – in The Hague (1993) and Arusha (1994) – to judge those responsible for these atrocities.

The first, established in 1993, has its seat in The Hague and is competent to judge those responsible for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia; the second, established in 1994, has its seat in Arusha and is competent to judge the same crimes, committed in the territory of Rwanda in 1994, or if by Rwandan citizens, also in the territory of neighbouring states.

The establishment of the two ad hoc tribunals certainly highlighted the will of states to repress these crimes through the creation of supernational jurisdictions, since the attribution to exclusively internal jurisdictional bodies of a state of the competence to repress such crimes, could be unsatisfactory for several reasons: economic, social and cultural backwardness of the state community, not perfect independence of the judges, and finally, not complete impartiality.

Subsequently, the bloody terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in New York and Washington and the war in Afghanistan reopened the debate on the functioning of justice at the international level.

Before Article 8 of the Rome Statute codified the elements of crimes of the main cases of international criminal law, the two aforementioned tribunals were the only international courts and tribunals that could be used to reconstruct the cases of the most heinous crimes that had hitherto only been defined at a purely customary level, all in the absence of a permanently operational International Criminal Court.

The establishment of the UN Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda (which have practically exhausted their activities to date) and the subsequent creation of the International Criminal Court were undoubtedly essential stages in the affirmation of the principle that those who commit international crimes bear individual criminal responsibility.

From what has been said on this subject, it is easy to see how such a demanding subject, which is linked to international affairs, requires experience and seriousness: it is therefore better to rely on true professionals such as the International Lawyers Associates ILA.

A review of the work of the International Criminal Tribunals

When the ad hoc Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda were created, probably no one thought that they would really work, however, in the course of fifteen years, these Tribunals have shown that justice can be done independently and impartially while ensuring the highest standards in respect of the rights of the defence.

The International Criminal Court has already concluded trials against over sixty individuals (nine defendants have been acquitted, fifty-five have been convicted, some have already served their full sentences), other proceedings are currently underway or about to begin.

A total of four fugitive defendants remain at large (including the well-known Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic). The ICTY has tried thirty defendants (three acquitted and twenty-eight convicted), including the Prime Minister of Rwanda at the time of the genocide and several members of the government as well as the administration; other trials are currently in progress or about to begin. Thirteen defendants are still at large, the best known of whom is undoubtedly Félicien Kabuga, a wealthy and powerful Rwandan businessman who, among other things, is alleged to have imported the machetes with which the genocide was carried out.

Today, it can be said that thanks to the Tribunals, a highly articulated system concerning the repression of international crimes has developed.

Of course, the fact that these bodies were created through a purely emergency instrument has always raised perplexity and ‘cast shadows’ on their work. In this sense, the fact that the ICTY did not conduct in-depth investigations into possible crimes committed by NATO during the bombing in Kosovo has provoked more than one criticism. In addition to this, there has always been a question mark over the fact that no investigation has so far been made public against members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which took over the government of the country after the genocide.

Obviously, the aforementioned Tribunals were set up from the outset as a measure for the restoration and maintenance of peace in the regions concerned; having achieved this aim, it was to be expected that the Security Council would decide to terminate their activities. However, this by no means means that the need for justice will have ceased. In this regard, the Permanent International Criminal Court was established, with broad and non-selective jurisdiction, precisely to try to refute the criticism levelled at ad hoc Tribunals and to give substance to the need for a judicial mechanism that pre-dates the execution of crimes.

In this regard, it seems of fundamental importance not to overlook the fact that the Tribunals leave behind a wealth of experience that should not be dispersed. We are talking about legal experience (through procedural decisions, judgments, rules of procedure), but also practical experience (in the field of investigations, in relation to the organisation of witness protection programmes, in relation to the management of the computer system for the presentation of evidence, etc.) and human experience. In this sense, a full handover between these ad hoc bodies and the Permanent Criminal Court, which was established in Rome in 1998 and is now fully operational, would be desirable.

Logically, ‘doing justice with a stopwatch’ is very difficult; of course, justice requires speed, but it must be reconciled with the need to reconstruct reality accurately.

In this context, so complicated and constantly evolving, the Italian and International Criminal Law Firm ILA can play, through its professionals, who deal specifically with national and international law, a fundamental support and advisory function.