by Taylor Ackerman

Keynote address by Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, Permanent Representative of Lichtenstein to the United Nations. Photo courtesy of Amber Lewis.

New York University’s Center for Global Affairs hosted a scenarios workshop on “The Future of the Field of International Justice” on February 10th, 2017.  CGA Professor Jennifer Trahan brought in an impressive roster of international justice practitioners, academics, and diplomatic representatives to discuss how the future of the field might look in 20 years.  Borrowing from Professor Michael Oppenheimer’s scenarios techniques, Professor Trahan outlined three scenarios, each with a different international justice mechanism acting as the dominant international justice approach of the future.  The expert participants responded by discussing if each scenario would be possible or likely, how it would come to fruition, what that might look like, and whether or not the situation would be desirable.

The first scenario focused on the International Criminal Court as the dominant international justice institution. The second highlighted hybrid and other tribunals, and the third put forth complementarity and national courts as the primary direction—focusing on whether there needs to be more coordination and centralization of capacity-building and how that might be accomplished.  The last session allowed for more flexibility to discuss how the scenarios might complement each other, and to discuss other “unforeseen” future scenarios.  The day started with a Keynote Address by Liechtenstein Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, and was opened and closed by remarks from Professor Trahan.

As a student note-taker, it was a privilege to hear some of the most well-known pioneers in the field of international criminal justice share their expertise and insights. Many of the expert participants were influential figures from civil society, including session moderators David Tolbert, President of the International Center for Transitional Justice and Richard Dicker, Director of the International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch.   Patrick Luna, Second Secretary and Legal Adviser, Permanent Mission of Brazil to the UN, and Dr. Carrie McDougall, Legal Adviser, Permanent Mission of Australia to the UN, also moderated session.  Notable figures from the ad hoc tribunals, including David M. Crane and Stephen J. Rapp, both former Chief Prosecutors of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, provided a special lunch-time presentation of highlights from their respective tenures as Chief Prosecutors.  Stephen J. Rapp also previously served as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large, Office of Global Criminal Justice.  Representatives and legal advisors from states’ permanent missions to the UN, other UN officials, and accomplished academics also participated in the discussion.  Participation of ICC and ICTR defense counsel, Beth Lyons, contributed to the diverse array of perspectives and experiences at the table.

Special Court for Sierra Leone Prosecutors Stephen Rapp and David Crane. Photo courtesy of Amber Lewis.

Some participants were alarmed by the idea of any institution but the ICC as dominant; others put their faith for the future in new hybrid courts. Participants also appreciated the role of national judiciaries in prosecuting core atrocity crimes.  However, throughout all of the sessions, individuals expressed a need for improvements in these institutions to more efficiently and effectively achieve accountability, while respecting core due process norms.  By and large, discussing tended to reflect the views of a number of participants that, given the magnitude of atrocity crimes still occurring globally, there likely would be a role for all of the ICC, hybrid and other tribunals, as well as national prosecutions.  

During each session, expert participants put forth an impressive number of new ideas.  A few individuals referenced and applauded the recent decision by the UN General Assembly to authorize the centralized collection of evidence of crimes in Syria.  Some wondered if this could be expanded to respond to other situations as well.  Other ideas put forth included the formation of new forms of hybrid tribunals, the role of regional tribunals, and all the diversity of approaches that might be seen as “complementarity” (complementing ICC prosecutions).  A number of potential new advocacy ideas for revitalizing the conversation about complementarity were also suggested.  One participant, Daryl Mundis, the Registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, posed the idea of an international, centralized registry that could serve future hybrid and ad hoc courts.

Although no conclusive prediction of the future was reached—nor was that the goal—the session provided an opportunity to brainstorm and contemplate the future of a field in which it appears that participants rarely get to indulge in long-term thinking.  Often, it seems, the challenge is to more grapple with immediate problems at hand.  Expert participants seemed to enjoy this exercise, and its utility was recognized.  Professor Trahan will publish the results of the scenarios workshop in a forthcoming publication that will appear in Impunity Watch, a journal run out of Syracuse College of Law, under the leadership of David M. Crane.

The workshop was the second part of Professor Trahan’s work in this are, funded by a NYU-SPS Dean’s Research Grant Program.  In the first phase, she conducted interview of top experts in the field, such as former Yugoslav and Rwanda Tribunal Prosecutor Richard Goldstone and other notable tribunal Prosecutors, as well as other experts, in both Nuremberg and The Hague.  These findings will also be featured in a forthcoming publication.

Taylor Ackerman is an MSGA Student in the Human Right & International Law concentration.

For a copy of Professor Trahan’s report of the event, click here: THE FUTURE OF IJ Report

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