Prosecuting War Criminals 13:00, 2001 (Ref: NA01225)


This documentary examines the powers of the world’s first International Criminal Court (ICC) and whether it has the teeth to try individuals for crimes committed anywhere in the world.

The US has withdrawn from the treaty which established the court and many important states – including most Arab states, Israel, China and Russia – have failed to sign or ratify it, causing some to question the court’s credibility. Washington says it fears its troops could become the target of politically motivated prosecutions. We have a film on why the US is opposed to it and how difficult it will be to prosecute war criminals. We look at the Nuremberg Trials where for the the first time in history there was a successful international war crimes tribunal, though it was called victor’s justice since those who’d won the war had full freedom to prosecute those who’d lost. Bloody armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia was one of the first reactions to the end of the Cold War. Campaigns of ethnic cleansing and mass deportation proved that little had changed since Nuremberg.

The film looks at the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, in which 800,000 people were murdered in just 100 days. Such brutality was becoming a hallmark of the post Cold War era. In response, the United Nations established the first war crimes tribunal since the Second World War. Canadian Louise Arbour became the chief prosecutor and her job was to indict those responsible for the crimes against civilians in both former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia seemed like a victory over human rights abuse. But the tribunals begged the question. Why was the world just prosecuting people from Yugoslavia and Rwanda when there were so many other atrocities left unpunished? The International Criminal Court is such an extraordinarily important historical development that it has been compared to the establishment of the United Nations charter. In the film, those who put the court together say that even without the United States on board it will still function well. They hope America will be isolated and then shamed into taking its rightful part as it sees its friends and allies support the new court.