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More and more states are implementing legislation enabling them to prosecute international crimes and have established special national courts/chambers to that effect. However, states can also opt to prosecute such crimes through their normal court system, without the need of establishing new courts/chambers. The arrival of the ICC has contributed to the prosecution of international crimes at the national level as well; if states do not want the ICC to interfere in their national prosecutions, they should enact legislation making it possible for national actors to genuinely cope with international crimes themselves. See here and here for more information on national implementation of ICC crimes. The following overview consists of a few examples of well-known domestic courts/chambers dealing with international crimes.

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Bosnian War Crimes Chamber

The Bosnian War Crimes Chamber is part of the Criminal Division of the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a domestic court of BiH, which includes international judges and prosecutors. It was established on 3 July 2002 by the Parliament of BiH with the Law on the Court of BiH. The Bosnian War Crimes Chamber officially began operations on 9 March 2005. There were three main objectives for the Chamber. Firstly, in order for the ICTY to focus on the ‘big fish’, the Chamber could deal with the lower ranking suspects (referred to it by the ICTY). Secondly, the Chamber serves the aim of reconstructing the Bosnian judicial system. Finally, the Chamber wants to serve reconciliation in Bosnia after the war. Concerning jurisdiction the Chamber has jurisdiction over persons for crimes under international law (genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes) and under Bosnian law in and outside of Bosnian territory. This resulted among others in the trial of Radovan Stankovic, who was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment in 2006 after his case had been referred by the ICTY. The Chamber does not only deal with referrals from the ICTY, but also deals with the most sensitive cases brought at the national or local level. This is also possible since the Chamber is part of the national judicial system. Initially, the Chamber was described as an internationalized/hybrid mechanism, but now that the international presence within the Chamber has diminished, it has been qualified as a national institution only. For more information, see here

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International Crimes Division Uganda

The International Crimes Division (ICD) of Uganda is a court that exercises jurisdiction over international crimes committed during civil wars and other internal conflicts in Uganda. The origin of this court lies in the Juba Peace Talks starting in 2006 to end the conflict in Northern Uganda between the government and rebel groups (including the Lord’s Resistance Army). These talks resulted in the Peace Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation. Part of the deal was that the Ugandan government would establish judicial systems that should investigate and prosecute the crimes. Thereto, the War Crimes Division was established in 2008, which changed name into International Crimes Division in 2011. The ICD is located in Gulu, Uganda, and forms part of the Ugandan High Court. Regarding jurisdiction, the ICD is concerned with international crimes like genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, terrorism, human trafficking, piracy and other international crimes, as defined under Uganda’s 2010 International Criminal Court Act, 1964 Geneva Conventions Act, Penal Code Act, or any other criminal law. Nevertheless, there is a limitation of the jurisdiction due to the Amnesty Act 2010, providing protection from prosecution or punishment to “any Ugandan who has at any time since the 26th day of January, 1986, engaged in or is engaging in war or armed rebellion against the government of the Republic of Uganda”. 

Although the ICC is also dealing with the situation in Uganda, there is no formal relationship between the ICC and the ICD. However, the ICD can be regarded as a court of complementarity with respect to the ICC.

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International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh

In 1971 Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan after a war for independence. This war was accompanied by massive crimes (killings, rape and displacement), which remained unpunished thereafter. Already in 1973 the International Crimes Tribunals Act was passed in Bangladesh, which authorized investigations into international crimes like war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other international crimes. Only in 2009 an International Crimes Tribunal was finally established, after the Awami League won the Bangladeshi elections, to address the atrocities and punish the perpetrators. Although the ICT looks into international crimes, there is no official involvement of the international community. Even though there was initial enthusiasm among the people in Bangladesh and the international community that there would finally be a way to end impunity, this soon changed into serious criticism of the ICT. First and foremost, the exclusion of due process guarantees in agreement with the Constitution in the ICT Statute is heavily criticized. The fact that a UN working group issued a formal statement that the pre-trial detention of a number of political leaders is arbitrary may attest to that. The accusation that the ICT is a political, partisan court could be supported when one looks at the total exclusion of investigations into crimes committed by Pakistani Army Officers, who are actually deemed to be most responsible. Only leaders of the Islamist Party Jamaat-e-Islami (which opposed independence in 1971) and the oppositional Bangladesh National Party have been indicted, whilst the Awami League is in power. The indictments against leaders of these parties also resulted in a number of convictions with the outcome of severe prison sentences and even death penalties. This has provoked heavy resistance among NGOs and the international community as a whole. For more information, see here.

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Iraqi High Tribunal

After the Iraq invasion by the US and its allies in 2003, the Iraqi Special Tribunal was installed. The Court has jurisdiction over Iraqi nationals or residents accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and violations of stipulated Iraqi laws committed in the Baathist regime period of 17 July 1968 - 1 May 2003 in Iraq or elsewhere. This includes crimes committed in the wars of Iraq with Iran and Kuwait and crimes committed against Iraqi people in and outside the context of armed conflict. The Iraqi Special Tribunal was established right before Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003. This is a domestic court, which is part of the national system. A national statute from the Interim Governing Council (appointed by the Coalition Provisional Authority), and not the UN or a treaty, established the court. After the 2005 national elections, the court was ratified and named ‘Iraq High Tribunal’ (IHT) by the Iraqi Transitional National Assembly. Even though there are only national judges and prosecutors in the IHT, and the Iraqi criminal procedure is adhered to, international advice and support was provided. In November 2006 the first trial was concluded. Saddam Hussein and two others were sentenced to death, and four people to imprisonment. The imposition of the death penalty caused a great deal of controversy and opposition against the IHT among international lawyers and human rights activists. For more information, see here.