What is an International Criminal Tribunal?

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  • Written By: M. Lupica
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 27 January 2020
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An international criminal tribunal is a special court set up to prosecute international crimes. Such international prosecutorial courts are often set up to prosecute crimes coming out of a particular situation, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Others, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), are general courts created to prosecute particular types of international crimes.

International criminal tribunals are created with the purpose of prosecuting cases to which national courts are unable to devote their own resources. These courts are typically created by way of treaty and the signing countries agree to recognize and enforce the rules of the court. Generally, international criminal tribunals are devoted to prosecuting various human rights crimes such as genocide.

The International Criminal Court is an example of such a court that was created with the specific intent of trying crimes against humanity and war crimes. The ICC was founded in 2002 and is housed in The Hague, a municipality in the Netherlands that is home to the international courts of the United Nations. Countries may become members of the ICC through signing and ratifying the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding document. The only way the ICC may exercise jurisdiction over a party is if he or she is a national of a nation that is a member or the alleged crime took place within the borders of a member nation.


From time to time, temporary criminal tribunals are established with the intent of focusing solely on prosecuting atrocities committed in connection with a particular event. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ITCR) is an international criminal court founded specifically to prosecute the parties responsible for the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, which encompassed a mass murder of an estimated total of 500,000 to 1,000,000 people. This particular tribunal has jurisdiction over crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes as defined by the Geneva Convention that occurred during that time period. The ITCR is located in Arusha, Tanzania.

Another temporary international criminal tribunal created to address particular human rights atrocities is the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ITCY). The ITCY was created to try war crimes that occurred during the Yugoslav Wars, which lasted from 1991 to 1995. The ITCY is housed in the Hague along with the ICC but the two courts are not affiliated with each other.


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Post 3

If you like reading about World War II, I'm sure you've heard about the tribunals that took place after. Most people have heard about the Nuremberg tribunal in Europe, but not as many know about the Tokyo tribunals.

I think the people tried at the Tokyo tribunals were charged with almost every crime against humanity. Everything from murder, to torture of war prisoners, rape, pillaging and plundering.

From what I read, along with Nuremberg, it was one of the precedents for international tribunals. After World War II, we had to rethink about what war meant and which means were acceptable. Unconventional warfare was a major issue during the tribunals too.

Post 2

I noticed that most of crimes against humanity, especially genocide are committed and ordered by people with political and military power. In Rwanda, for example, the tribunals were really the first time that Rwandan leaders were held accountable for their deeds. Leaders in Rwanda were probably never punished for their crimes before.

This is such a huge deal. Tribunals don't just prosecute, they help teach a lesson to such leaders across the world. Such leaders need to know that they won't get away with what they do. The Tribunals are an excellent way to do this.

Post 1

The trying of war criminals and their persecution can take a long time. I still hear in the news of war criminals being arrested from the Bosnian war, even though it has been 16 years.

That might be one of the concerns about international tribunals. It does provide justice when countries don't have the means or the neutrality to provide it to their citizens. But we cannot expect it to happen overnight. The problem I see with that is, the longer it takes, the more frustrated victims and their families may be. I also think that evidence may be lost over time.

I know for example, that many of the recently arrested war criminals from the Bosnian war were still holding their political positions, running for office and continuing their lives. It's great that they can be brought to justice despite the time which has passed, but one does wish that it happened more quickly.

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