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Promoting international criminal justice

How should the international community of states respond to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity? How can the perpetrators of international crimes be brought to justice? How can international crimes be prevented? How can the international community of states promote international consensus while bridging gaps and cultural differences? The members of the Grotius Centre are working on such issues and thus promote the distribution of international criminal justice around the world.

The impact of the Criminal Court

In June 2012 the International Criminal Court rendered its first judgment in the case against Lubanga, a war criminal from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Court convicted him of various war crimes, including the large-scale recruitment and use of child soldiers, and sentenced him to twelve years’ imprisonment. Twenty-two cases have since been brought before the Court relating to nine situations – all of them in Africa – resulting in two convictions. Members of the Grotius Centre, including Carsten Stahn, Larissa van den Herik, and Bill Schabas, deal with issues of international criminal law and investigate, among other things, the impact of the judgments and decisions of the International Criminal Court in the states where these crimes were committed. These are often states where the rule of law is still under development. Together with others, members of the Grotius Centre analyse media reports and conduct surveys and interviews with the victims and local law enforcers. They also seek to reconcile the differences between the wishes and customs of the Member States on the one hand and the responsibilities of the International Criminal Court on the other hand. More cooperation and closer collaboration between the Court and the local authorities would be a step in the right direction.


‘The International Criminal Court is still relatively young and intends to to give the inhabitants of traumatised countries such as Congo the feeling that justice is done in their name,’ says Larissa van den Herik about her research. ‘But that is by no means self-evident when the judgments are delivered in The Hague. In Africa, some people qualify the activities of the International Criminal Court as neo-colonialist. This raises the question of when international intervention is appropriate.

Is election violence a matter for the International Criminal Court? Does the Court focus too much on Africa? Can the Court also play a role in the Middle East, in Palestine or with respect to IS? These are questions that members of the Grotius Centre seek to answer. They analyse the law without losing sight of the relevant political context and the dynamics of the international community.

Punishment and reconciliation

The International Criminal Court is just one of the instruments for promoting international criminal justice. It is supplemented by ad hoc tribunals (such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the Special Court for Sierra Leone), commissions of inquiry (such as the commission investigating human rights violations in Darfur), and truth and reconciliation commissions (such as the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa). In a globalised world it is logical that an increasing number of judicial, but also non-judicial organisations promote international criminal justice across the world. Members of the Grotius Centre seek to ensure that these organisations work with and learn from each other. They organise seminars to establish dialogue between the parties involved. Or they formulate guidelines and best practices. There is no need to constantly reinvent the wheel, and the victims are not forced to repeatedly recount their traumatic experiences before various institutions. A more theoretical question is whether non-judicial commissions interpret the law differently than judges, and if so, what the consequences are.

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