In March 2016, Pieter Lagrou, Pierre-Olivier de Broux, Ornella Rovetta and Thomas Graditzky organized the International conference ‘Defeating Impunity, Promoting International Justice. The Archival Trail, 1914-2014’ in Brussels at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Organized within the framework of the Interuniversity Attraction Pole ‘Justice & Populations: the Belgian experience in International Perspective’, it actively involved all the members of the Jusinbellgium team.
Pieter Lagrou and Ornella Rovetta presented a common paper titled ‘Torture on Trial, 2014-2014: the Words the Crime Elicits’, exploring the possibility to investigate legal discourses and practices in a historical perspective. It offered a reflection on torture accounts in three different judicial contexts, in the aftermath of the two World Wars and after the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda in 1994. By doing so, it described how the crimes of torture were brought before national and international courts through three cases: the Jean-Paul Akayesu trial (1995-1998), the trial of the Geheime Feldpolizei 530 (1950) in Belgium and the Max Ramdohr trial in Leipzig (1921), a case brought by Belgium before this court. Wolfgang Form, an international partner in the Jusinbellgium project, presented a paper about the gathering, digitization and classification work he realized on the United Nations War Crimes Commission records. Marie-Anne Weisers dealt with “The Struggle of Belgian Magistrates to Punish Crimes against the Jews (1947-1951)” in her paper. She focused on the work of the Belgian judiciary, after War World II, regarding the war crimes committed by Germans against the Jews. As the outcome of these trials has generally been considered as a failure, she shed light on the the origins of this failure, showing that there has been a will to prosecute the criminals who committed crimes against the Jews in Belgium. Delphine Lauwers gave a presentation on the Jusinbellgium project and Hendrik Vandekerckhove actively participated in the debates and discussions during the two days.
The conference aimed at combining views from the field with scholarly research in the social and legal sciences and paid close attention to archives and primary sources. How do scholars working on judicial sources cope with the different filters that stand between the sources they work on and the events and processes they study? How can we map networks of militancy and systematic documentation gathering in the wake of war and their impact on national dynamics? Did practitioners, in the 1940s, in the 1990s, ground their legal framework, their investigations, their procedural approach and their final verdicts on their familiarity with national and international judicial precedent?
The conference discussed (inter)national records of engagement with international law and justice from 1914 to 2016 and questioned the way in which the judiciary dealt with gross violations of international law in the wake of war and how legal actors responded to the challenges of an emergent and developing set of international laws. We welcomed researchers from Belgium, France, the United States and Germany.
Full programme: Defeating Impunity – programme 9-10 March