International Humanitarian Law Dialogs Talk Nuremberg’s Legacy

CHAUTAUQUA – Nearly 70 years ago, the Nuremberg trials determined the fate of more than 20 Nazi war criminals accused of committing crimes against humanity.

Jamestown’s own Robert H. Jackson, an associate Supreme Court justice at the time, was appointed chief prosecutor of the trials and soon became a driving force behind their conduct and ultimate legacy.

This week, the Robert H. Jackson Center is co-sponsoring the eighth annual International Humanitarian Law Dialogs at Chautauqua Institution.

The three-day event, according to the institution, allows the public to engage in meaningful dialogue concerning past and contemporary crimes against humanity with renowned international prosecutors and leading professionals in the field of international law.

On Monday, five of these prosecutors sat down to reflect on their work and the innumerable challenges they face in a world all too familiar with horrific violence.

These included Serge Brammertz, with the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; Hassan B. Jallow, with the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda; Fatou Bensouda, with the International Criminal Court; Brenda J. Hollis, with the special court for Sierra Leone; and Nicholas Koumjian, with the extraordinary chambers in the courts of Cambodia.

“Is (the legacy of Nuremburg) seven men being hung and 20 men convicted?” asked Koumjian. “No, the legacy of Nuremburg is about the process of finding justice. Victims feel that they want to live in a society that has recognized what’s happened to them. And if there’s a court that actually brings justice and recognition for this conduct … then (senior leaders) should be held responsible.”

The prosecutors described the atrocities committed in their respective jurisdictions, from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda to the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. They equally acknowledged the criticism that international tribunals sometimes receive for not prosecuting everyone responsible.

“All international tribunals have limitations,” said Jallow, indicating that courts must follow the law and evidence-based information, rather than pure emotion. “Things have improved considerably and we have developed many outreach programs within Rwanda itself (that inform people about what we have done).”

Indeed, Bensouda described how many people are simply unaware of the International Criminal Court.

“The misperception and lack of knowledge about the court continues to be a big challenge,” she said. ” Unfortunately, what happens is a vacuum is created by our inability to reach out to all corners of the world … and that vacuum is filled by the skeptics and the critics (who undermine) the court.”

Nonetheless, the International Criminal Court as well as international criminal tribunals continue to conduct investigations, and according to the panelists, bring those responsible for some of humanity’s cruelest acts to justice.

Further information on international law will be discussed today at Chautauqua Institution as Ambassador David Scheffer, the first United States ambassador-at-large for war crimes, reflects on his work at 8:15 a.m. and a “porch sessions” gathering with leading professionals in international law takes place at 11 a.m.