JUSINBELLGIUM is an interdisciplinary four-year (2015-2019) research project supported by the Belgian Science Policy and involving four partners: the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), the Belgian State Archives, the KU Leuven University and the Philipps-Universität in Marburg (International Research and Documentation Center for War Crimes Trials). The central aim of the project is to identify, describe and digitize judicial records produced by Belgian jurisdictions in the context of post-conflict processes from 1914 to 2014. By doing so, it seeks to contribute to a critical history of the role of justice after mass violence and war.
1914-2014: Belgian precedents of international justice
Since the First World War, post-war societies have responded in different ways to the perpetration of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In Belgium, documenting atrocities and bringing perpetrators to trial have been central to these post-war reactions after 1918 and 1945 and since the 1990s, when accountability for international crimes has been extended beyond national boundaries through extraterritorial competence, enabling investigations of conflicts such as Rwanda or Chad. After the two World wars, hundreds of war criminals have faced trials in Belgium for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflits. These experiences have led to new forms of (inter)national justices that the project aims to explore at the Belgian level. It focuses on three chronological moments :
1. In absentia trials of German “coupables de guerre” after 1918 (around 200 cases);
2. War crimes trials in the 1940s (103 defendants);
3. Extraterritorial competence and international judicial cooperation since the 1990s (especially the four “Rwanda” trials).
International justice as a project: a documentary legacy
What is the historical and legal legacy of these trials? Which purpose did they serve, how successful were they in achieving their objectives and how have they set future legislative agendas? What was their contribution to the on-going construction of international criminal justice? Did they shape the definition of international crimes and their transnational recognition? And what do the archives of these trials tell us on the way justice works from the point of view of judges, victims and perpetrators? It is the aim of this project to investigate these questions while searching and processing the primary records. Unearthing the long-standing and very diverse Belgian legal history made of thousands of “minor trials”, will help make this archival heritage available to scholars working on mass crimes and practitioners of international justice.
An interdisciplinary database
The first durable and fundamental research result of the project is the creation of the database of digital judicial sources. The research tool will be designed to operate in the framework of the “Legal Tools” Project of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, a standard-setting portal integrating judicial records of all the leading international jurisdictions and increasingly also national case law in the field of international crimes. Judicial sources, as archives for historians and jurisprudence for legal scholars, will be valorized through the database, but also through transversal research carried out within the project’s network.
The blog presents information on the involved researchers and centers, the activities (workshops, publications, seminars), and the scientific results of the Jusinbellgium project. It will offer research notes and case studies, as well as a selection of student’s papers, on the pioneering history of Belgium’s contribution to the construction of new forms of (inter)national forms of justice over a century.
The Jusinbellgium project has close connections with the research carried out within the framework of the InterUniversity Attraction Pole ‘Justice & Populations’ (P7/22). This first video presents the research team and objectives of the ULB team (Pieter Lagrou, Olivier Corten, Thomas Graditzky and Ornella Rovetta).
The second video presents the involvement of the State Archives in the Jusinbellgium project as well as the 2015-2016 seminar in contemporary history at the ULB.