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Old Evidence and Core International Crimes

Dhaka, 11 September 2011

Link to Seminar Concept and Programme | Message from Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs

Seminar speakers and organizers. Picture courtesy Mr. Zaid Islam, The Independent.

International criminal law does not recognize statutes of limitation for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Prosecution services should not, according to international law, loose their authority to prosecute these crimes even if several decades have passed. For this reason and as part of an international trend of increased use of accountability for such crimes, some serious violations that occurred during World War II, in Indonesia in the 1960s, in Bangladesh and Cambodia in the 1970s, and in Iraq in the 1980s are currently being investigated and occasionally prosecuted. The suspects are old and frequently frail. Victims and their family members are old. Although there are open wounds that undermine deeper reconciliation in societies affected by the crimes, the younger generations may have limited knowledge of the victimization caused by them. Political support for trials may even be unstable.

Minister of Justice Shafique Ahmed addressing the seminar.

None of these challenges in criminal cases for core international crimes that occurred decades ago were the specific concern of this seminar. Rather, the focus was on questions caused by the existence and use of old evidence in core international crimes cases. Witnesses are old. Their memory may be affected. They may have told their story many times, including in the form of interviews that may have been made public. They may have spoken extensively with other victims or potential witnesses. Documents and other physical evidence may have passed through many hands. The chain of custody may not be clear. Archives may have been broken up, destroyed or become illegible. Mass-graves and crime scenes may have been interfered with. Experts and other persons with particular knowledge of the context in which the crimes were committed may have died. Potential witnesses may have moved on to such an extent in their lives that they do not wish to reopen a traumatic past by co-operating with criminal justice.

Judge A.M.M. Orie addressing the press in a seminar break. Picture courtesy Mr. Zaid Islam, The Independent.

These were among the issues that this expert seminar dealt with, drawing on the expertise of speakers who have worked on old-crime cases in Cambodia, Indonesia, ex-Yugoslavia and linked to World War II, including Judge Alphons M.M. Orie, Judge Agnieszka K. Milart, Mr. Andrew Cayley, Professor David Cohen and Dr. Patrick Treanor. The FICHL is pleased to have been the first to place the issue of old evidence and core international crimes on the international criminal justice agenda, by conceiving and convening this seminar.

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