International Criminal Justice: Winding Down Two Ad-Hoc Criminal Tribunals

We have seen that two of the institutions of international criminal justice are the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). They are both so-called ad hoc tribunals that were created by the U.N. Security Council.[1]

Both were created with the clear expectation that they would not be permanent institutions. Instead, they had set terms of existence that have had to be extended. Those termination dates are now July 1, 2012 (ICTR) and July 1, 2013 (ICTY). To cope with their anticipated unfinished business when they cease to exist, the Security Council created another institution with the awkward title of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT).[2]

On June 6, 2011, the Security Council heard from the ICTR and ICTY on the status of their efforts to complete their work by the above dates. Despite their diligent efforts, both tribunals face difficulties in meeting the deadlines.[3]

One problem is the recent arrests of defendants (Mladic for ICTY and Munyagishari for ICTR) and the resulting preparations for, and conducting, their trials.

Another problem for both tribunals is the departure of professional staff members who understandably are seeking new jobs with ongoing institutions, rather than be left standing on a sinking ship. One solution to this problem that was suggested at the recent Security Council meeting was paying retention bonuses to those who stay until the tribunals are terminated. Good idea, but what is the source of the funds to pay such bonuses? The tribunals are paid for by the Security Council, which always has difficulties in obtaining funds for its budget.

One way to help get their work done by their end dates is to refer as many remaining cases as possible to national courts. Both tribunals are doing so.

These inherent administrative difficulties that are associated with ending the ad hoc tribunals are one set of reasons for the establishment of the permanent International Criminal Court. Since it is a permanent body, it will not experience these problems.[4] In addition, unlike the ad hoc tribunals, the ICC, once established, is able to take on current problems like Libya.[5]

All three of these institutions, however, share the difficult challenge of trying to shorten the time required for trials. Given the nature of the crimes within the jurisdiction of these bodies, this is not easy. For example, the ICC has jurisdiction over defined “war crimes,” which require proof of certain acts when “committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.” Such proof is not simple.[6]

Thus, the recent Security Council meeting included discussion of the need for the ICTR and ICTY to have greater judicial efficiency while still providing due process to the defendants. The tribunals’  representatives  talked about the recent introduction of electronic filing, amendments to their rules of procedure and evidence and improved case management techniques, limiting amendments to the grounds for appeal, organization of judgment drafting and prioritization of work. There were no details of these efforts provided at the Security Council meeting, but although they sound good, they seem an inadequate response to me. More promising were suggestions on this subject from one of the ICC judges:

  • Have court-appointed experts present reports regarding context, background, general circumstances of alleged offenses and peripheral facts.
  • Use depositions for less central areas of evidence.
  • Increase use of video links to hear some witnesses.
  • Require parties for each witness to identify areas of undisputed and of disputed testimony.
  • Amend the Rome Statute to allow a single judge to hear some parts of trial instead of the three judges now required for all aspects of a trial.
  • Examine whether the ICC is efficiently operating and using its funds.
  • Develop expedited procedures for interlocutory appeals.[7]

Another problem was presented by the ICTR. It continues to face difficulties in relocating acquitted defendants and convicted individuals who have served their sentences.

The Security Council meeting was attended by a representative of the government of Rwanda, which is not a member of the Council. He raised a separate issue. He said of utmost concern to his government was the “scourge of genocide denial by some in the academic and legal professions, including ICTY defense lawyers, [who] are leading an international campaign to misrepresent, misinterpret and openly deny that, in 1994, there was a genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi in Rwanda. . . . Such attempts  . . . are . . . not only morally reprehensible, but also a violation of the ethics and rules of professional conduct for attorneys. . . . The Government of Rwanda will . . . continue to ensure that, without prejudice or favor, any individual who engages in revisionism or denial of [this] . . . genocide . . . be brought to justice in accordance with the Rwandan Constitution and other legal instruments.”

This Rwandan statement is not an idle threat. In 2010 Rwandan authorities arrested and jailed for nearly three weeks a defense lawyer before the ICTR, Peter Erlinder of Minnesota, for allegedly denying that genocide had happened.[8] Such threats and charges, I submit, are infringements of a defendant’s right to counsel and of the lawyer’s duty zealously to represent his client. The Minnesota State Bar Association stood up for Erlinder with a resolution that urged the Rwandan government “to drop all charges against him based on actions taken in the course of his professional representation of his clients in Rwanda and the exercise of his internationally recognized rights to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly, and . . . to allow him to continue his legal representation and the exercise of his rights to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly without further intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper influence.”[9]

Despite all of these administrative problems, the French Ambassador to the U.N. at the recent Council meeting reminded us all that the recent arrests of Mladic and the Rwandan fugitive and the continued efforts to find and prosecute those charged with these grave crimes send “an important message.” For “all of those who today still try to come to power–or stay in power–by ordering and planning attacks against civilians, to all those who, when faced with an international criminal justice arrest warrant . . ., think that they can count on weariness or inaction on the part of the [Security] Council [or the international criminal tribunals], [t]hey are mistaken.”


[1] See: Post: International Criminal Justice: Introduction (April 26, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: Mladic To Face Charges at ICTY (May 27, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: Mladic Update (June 1, 2011).

[2]  See Post: International Criminal Justice: The Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (May 28, 2011).

[3]  U.N. Security Council, 6545th Meeting (June 6, 2011); U.N. Security Council, Press Release: Arrests of Long-Sought Fugitives Commended in Security Council, But Challenges to Completing Work in War Crimes Tribunals Dominate Briefings by Officials (June 6, 2011).

[4]  See Post: International Criminal Court: Introduction (April 28, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011).

[5]  See Post: The International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Libya Investigation Status (May 8, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Three Libyan Arrest Warrants Sought (May 16, 2011).

[6]  Rome Statute for ICC, Art. 8(1).

[7]  ICC Judge Adrian Fulford, The Reflections of a Trial Judge (Dec. 16, 2010).

[8]  Kron & Gettleman, American Lawyer for Opposition Figure Is Arrested, N.Y. Times (May 28, 2010); Ward, Hearing could end Erlinder’s “holding pattern” in Rwanda, StarTrib. (June 6, 2010); Herb, Erlinder is sent to prison after Rwanda denies bail, StarTrib. (June 7, 2010); Diaz, Erlinder essay on Rwanda has defense nervous, StarTrib. (June 11, 2011); Herb & Diaz, Erlinder acknowledges suicide attempt in jail, StarTrib. (June 15, 2010); Herb & Diaz, Rwanda frees Peter Erlinder on bail, StarTrib. (June 17, 2010); Diaz & Herb, Nightmare over, Erlinder’s home, StarTrib. (June 22, 2010); Kron, U.S. Lawyer Is Barred from Rwanda Tribunal Work, N.Y. Times (April 22, 2011).

[9] Minn. State Bar Ass’n, General Assembly Resolution (June 25, 2010).  Professor Erlinder has written an account of his arrest and jailing which, he says, was due to his having used discovery proceedings to uncover original documents in U.N. and U.S. Government archives that confirm that the victors in the four-year Rwandan war have told the story of the violence that occurred during that war; he also criticizes the record of the ICTR as one-sided prosecution. (Erlinder, The UN Security Council Ad Hoc Rwanda Tribunal: International Justice or Juridically-Constructed “Victor’s Impunity”?, 4 DePaul J. Soc. Justice 131 (2010).) Erlinder also has created the Rwanda Documents Project to collect and make available primary source materials from international and national agencies, governments, and courts that relate to the political and social history of Rwanda from 1990 to the present. (Rwanda documents project, http://www.rwandadocumentsproject.net/gsdl/cgi-bin/library.)

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

One thought on “International Criminal Justice: Winding Down Two Ad-Hoc Criminal Tribunals”

  1. Comment: Continued Problems in Winding Down the Ad Hoc Criminal Tribunals

    On December 7, 2011, the U.N. Security Council received reports from the presidents and prosecutors of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the Former Yugoslavia.

    These two tribunals are supposed to finish all of their activities by June 2012 and December 2014 respectively. But both are having difficulties in meeting these deadlines because of lack of state cooperation in arresting suspects, lack of resources and departures of professional staff.

    U.N. Security Council Press Release, Funding Shortfalls, Lack of State cooperation, Personnel Retention Threaten Timely Completion of International Tribunals’ Tasks, Security Council Is Told (Dec. 7, 2011).

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