A promising year for international justice

06 January 2016 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

The range of justice processes across the world is continuing to become more multi-faceted each year – and 2016 is no exception. But while providing fodder for the burgeoning groups of academics considering the significance and influence of the wide variety of courts, there is no sense that the world has settled on an ideal format with which to hold perpetrators of violence during conflicts to account. The plurality is the grist to IJT’s mill. For the year ahead, there are significant cases – and institutions – coming to an end, while other sagas continue.

In Guatemala, the re-trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges including genocide and crimes against humanity is due to resume on 11 January. It is set to be conducted without Ríos Montt present because of his ill health [IJT-184]. Observers predict – again – the opening will be largely taken up by procedural issues and is likely to produce another lengthy postponement.

At the end of January, the key issue at UN-brokered peace talks for Syria will be peace. But lobbying will continue on how to plan for accountability for both the Assad regime and opposition movements in any deal. Expect repeated calls for a Syria war crimes tribunal [IJT-169, IJT-186]

Early February will see defence closing statements in the torture and crimes against case against Chadian ex-dictator Hissène Habré. A verdict is expected in late May. This case is historic: the first-ever war crimes trial of a former African head of state in Africa [IJT-184]. And, with remarkable economy and speedy process, the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) in Senegal is setting a enviable tone for future hybrid international courts.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) starts the new year in a new building and with an overflowing agenda as IJT wrote earlier. It has a lot to prove and a newly fired-up management team to try to show the world that their investment in this permanent body will pay off [expect an IJT interview with the registrar next week]. In what looks planned to be its busiest year yet, the ICC kicks off in January with hearings in the case against Kenyan Vice-President William Ruto and journalist Joshua Sang, where judges will decide if there is a case to answer. Later this month, will see the start the trial of Ivorian ex-president Laurent Gbagbo and his political lieutenant Charles Blé Goudé, as well as confirmation of charges hearings for Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen and Tuareg rebel Ahmed Al Faqi Al Mahdi over alleged war crimes in Mali.

A judgment in the case of former Congolese vice-present Jean Pierre Bemba over Central African Republic crimes is also expected any day now.

The Hague's oldest war crimes court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is gearing up to close its doors permanently in 2017. The much-anticipated verdict in the case against Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic – the highest-ranking Bosnian Serb ever on trial for the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia – may come by the end of March. While much of the legal facts of the conflict were already established in earlier cases, the ruling could see judges agreeing with prosecution arguments to expand the crime of genocide in Bosnia.

Previously the court concluded that only the killings in Srebrenica constituted genocide. But the Karadzic case [IJT-167] also concerns the widespread and systematic campaign of so-called ethnic cleansing that took place during the war in several other Bosnian municipalities.

In the trial against Karadzic's former military commander Ratko Mladic, the defence with resume their case in February. A final verdict, however, is not expected until November 2017.

Serbian firebrand politician Vojislav Seselj is continuing to cause the ICTY some headaches [IJT- 171]. Seselj, reportedly gravely ill from cancer but throwing himself into Serbian political life with gusto, has been on provisional release since November 2014. He has repeatedly said he will not voluntarily return to The Hague to hear a judgment against him. After so many delays and twists and turns, it's hard to be sure that the tribunal’s planning of a judgement in the first quarter will hold. 

The ICTY will also be breaking new ground as the MICT transitional mechanism, set up to take over the court's continuing duties [IJT-185] as the ICTY closes its doors, prepares for the re-trial of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, two former Serbian officials. It is uncertain when the trial will start, but if the speed with which the MICT set up the pair's initial appearance in court is anything to go by, it'll be soon.

At the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), the prosecution is in the middle of presenting its case with almost as many witnesses still to be heard (187) as have already been heard (202) [IJT-177].

In Cambodia, the appeal against the life sentences for former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan for crimes against humanity in the so-called case 002/01 continues before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), while the same defendants are also on trial in case 002/02. The second case includes genocide charges and focuses on abuses in Khmer Rouge prisons and detention camps. But the big question in 2016 is what will happen with the so-called 003 and 004 cases where the court indicted several new suspects last year [IJT-177]. With national and international factions at the court openly disagreeing on policy and the opposition of the Cambodian authorities to these cases, it’s unsurprising no suspects have so far been arrested.

This is just a handful of the cases and situations that IJT follows and we expect to continue reporting on this year. We are also expanding our range of stories by publishing more opinion pieces from international justice actors. If you have such pieces and would like to see them on the IJT website, please email stephanievandenberg@justicetribune.com.

Lady justice, Williamson county court house (Photo: Flickr/Jack)

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