Report From PluriCourts, University of Oslo Conference

On August 28-29, I attended “The Legitimacy and Effectiveness of International Criminal Tribunals” conference at PluriCourts, University of Oslo, Norway.  PluriCourts- Centre for the Study of the Legitimate Roles of the Judiciary in the Global Order-  is an interdisciplinary Centre of Excellence at the Faculty of Law, University of Oslo.  The conference was organized by our editor, Cecilia Marcela Bailliet, and attended by prestigious scholars from various European and American law schools and other institutions, including our founder, Professor Diane Marie Amann.

 Panels on the first day of the conference addressed the issue of structure of legitimacy and effectiveness.  The daily keynote address was delivered by Professor Charles Chernor Jalloh of Florida International University, and subsequent panels addressed issues of perceptions of legitimacy, the normative development of legitimacy, the importance of truth-seeking in the role of international criminal tribunals, and complementarity and regionalism. 

 The second day was equally interesting and engaging, with a keynote address delivered by Professor Diane Marie Amann, and subsequent panels focusing on the topic of actors who shape and evaluate international criminal tribunals’ legitimacy and effectiveness.  Thus, panels on the second day discussed the role of judges, prosecutors, convicted persons, victims, states and NGOs in our ongoing understanding of questions related to the international criminal tribunals’ legitimacy and effectiveness.

 My own role within the conference was to moderate a panel on the first day, entitled “Truth and Narratives.”  The first speaker of this interesting panel was Professor Jakob Holtermannn from the University of Copenhagen, and the second speaker was Professor Timothy William Waters from the University of Indiana Maurer School of Law.  Both speakers examined the importance of truth-seeking in the work of international criminal tribunals.  Professor Holtermann argued that international criminal tribunals cannot legitimately remain “agnostic” when it comes to truth-seeking, and that instead, they must adopt an attitude where they either embrace truth-seeking or reject its importance toward the accomplishment of justice.  Here, Professor Holtermann distinguished truth and reconciliation commissions from international criminal tribunals, because the former have an inherent truth-seeking role, whereas the latter can feasibly adopt an approach which would relegate truth-seeking to a secondary goal, less worthy than the pursuit of legal justice.  Professor Waters focused on the various ways in which international criminal tribunals may obscure narratives of truth, such as the use of redaction and the shielding of identity of various witnesses and victims who participate in international criminal trials.  Professor Waters acknowledged that such truth-obscuring may be necessary in order to enable the working of any international criminal trial (otherwise, witnesses and victims would not be able to participate), but he argued that it is important for us as scholars to recognize and discuss the role of secrecy inherent in the work of any international criminal tribunal.

 It would be difficult to conclude that conference participants walked away with deliberate conclusions about the legitimacy and effectiveness of international criminal tribunals.  Instead, every conference panel concluded with a vigorous debate about these topics, with some questioning the utility of any general discussion of legitimacy (because legitimacy in the abstract, for some, does not mean much; instead, we should focus on specific view points of various state and non-state actors when assessing the usefulness of any international criminal tribunal), and others asking pointed questions about the role international legal actors play in the tribunals’ work, about reparations regimes and convicted persons’ rehabilitation, and about the importance of domestic prosecutions versus international ones. Congratulations and thank you to Cecilia Bailliet for having organized this wonderful conference! 

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