The proliferation of UN-backed special courts and tribunals, mainly clustered around the Dutch capital, The Hague, has been built on a 19th-century ambition to regulate the rules of war and settle international disputes. The first Hague convention of 1899 tried to formulate laws prohibiting war crimes. The international criminal court, founded in 2002, is the latest embodiment of the determination to outlaw genocide and crimes against humanity. Before the ICC was established, specialised courts to deal with the aftermath of particular conflicts were set up. The pioneers were the postwar Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials.
In the 1990s, the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia(ICTY), was created in The Hague to deal with crimes in the Balkans. The ICTY, as well as prosecuting the former Serb commander Ratko Mladic, tried the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. He died in 2006 before the verdict could be delivered.
The international criminal tribunal for Rwanda, based in Arusha, Tanzania, dealt with the 1994 genocide. The Hague is also home to the special tribunal for Lebanon, which is investigating the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri in Beirut in 2005. The special court for Sierra Leone was established in 2002 to bring to justice those responsible for atrocities perpetrated during the country’s country’s civil war in 1996.
The ICC is expected to supersede regional temporary, region-focused war crimes tribunals and assume the role of a permanent court to “end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community”.
The USA, a generous backer of the regional tribunals, is not a signatory to the ICC. Critics accuse Washington of wanting to ensure US citizens have effective international immunity from prosecution. The case of Khaled el-Masri, a German national who accuses the CIA of sending him to a secret prison in Afghanistan, was heard at the European court of human rights in Strasbourg. The court, used by the 47 member states of the Council ofEurope including the UK, deals with appeals beyond national jurisdictions on issues in relation to the European convention on human rights.