Justice for Genocide 23:00, 2000 (Ref: EU00152)



This film examines the highs and lows of the permanent war crimes court in The Hague. The court is charged with prosecuting war criminals in Bosnia and Rwanda. Louise Arbour, the chief prosecutor at The Hague Trials, has sought punishment for those who carried out the massacres in Rwanda and Bosnia. Frustration would best describe Arbour’s efforts to prosecute these criminals. But in recent years the UN almost doubled the budget to catch the criminals. Does this indicate success for the court? As we see in this documentary, the model for these trials is the court at Nuremberg where Nazis were brought to justice. Law is far more complex today. In the first five years, only two people were convicted. But we know in Nuremberg that it was enough to say those in charge, those who issued the orders knew what was going on and hence were culpable.

The Balkans wars were fought by professional soldiers with a lot of help from a rag tag band of irregulars. It’s not always clear who gave what orders or who was in control. UN peacekeepers did what they could to stop the madness but this was not conventional war. Arbour inherited lots of indictments from a time when most people thought the court was largely symbolic and would never really do anything. Her team has little access to the crime scenes and a lot of key witnesses won’t talk. As though Yugoslavia wasn’t enough, she’s also responsible for justice in Rwanda as well. Rwanda was the other genocidal war of the 1990’s. 800,000 people were murdered in a few weeks. It happened with machetes and clubs. The perpetrators fled. The leaders went into hiding. They were safe until the ICC was established.

When Arbour took over the war crimes tribunal for Rwanda, it was in a shambles. Corruption, misuse of funds, bad investigations. Now the tribunal is back on track, collecting evidence of the Hutu massacres, investigating murders and arresting many of those responsible. The tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia succeeded slowly but they weren’t expected to succeed at all. The war crimes tribunal has the highest level of security. The fear is too many people would like faster justice than a trial. Bullet proof glass protects the courtroom from the outside world. Inside is a kind of lab, an experiment in human justice for the 21st Century. Writing new laws, making mistakes, bringing justice to crime before it went unpunished. Something positive may yet emerge from the two horrible genocidal wars of the 1990’s. This building may become a permanent international court for crimes against humanity.

There are many obstacles in the path of a permanent court especially one that would have peace but tribunal watchers say something very important has happened at The Hague that set a benchmark for international justice. Louise Arbour has dozens more people she plans to bring to court. A lot of hope is riding on her success. The expectations of people who have waited a long time living on promises of justice. Arbour must make legal order out of genocide and bring the rule of law to madness.