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International Criminal Justice

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There is no question that one of the most remarkable aspects of the multiplication of international judicial fora is the rekindling of the idea of international criminal responsibility, and the flourishing of institutional mechanisms to try and sanction gross violations of humanitarian law and human rights.

Historically there are numerous examples of internationally based efforts to try perpetrators of crimes against humanity, ranging from the special mixed tribunals created in the nineteenth century for the suppression of the African slave trade, to the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials in the wake of the Second World War. However, the division of the world into two antagonist blocks in the period 1945-1990, halted international cooperation in this area, while prosecution of violations of international humanitarian law and gross violations of human rights were mainly left to domestic courts, at best, or gone unpunished at worst.

The 1990s opened with the establishment of the ICTY and ICTR, which, in turn, led to the creation of the ICC at the end of that decade. Besides these three fully international criminal tribunals, however, legal and political reasons have also created the room for the growth of a “third-generation” of criminal bodies, which are called, internationalized or hybrid criminal bodies, such as those created, between 1999 and 2003, in East-Timor, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and those planned for Cambodia and Bosnia.

Finally, national courts have increasingly become proactive in prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity, often using their inquisitorial powers across the globe and time (from the Pinochet case, to the probes against Sharon, or Kissinger), quickly gaining the attention of mass-media, and raising intense debates on their actions and limits.

In other words, international criminal law has come of age during the post-Cold War era, and the war on terrorism, which opened the 2000s, has created a new host of issues as well.

International criminal justice is one of the key areas of PICT work. Considering its centrality to the development of the international judiciary, in the past we have dedicated considerable time and resources to it. PICT has been an active participant throughout the process of the establishment of the international Criminal Court, contributing think-pieces to the Preparatory Commission of the ICC. It has sponsored publications on the ICC, organized lectures on the development of the international criminal justice system, as well as promoted conferences and scholarly publications on the phenomenon of internationalized criminal courts.