June 2014, Original Project Application
The Jusinbellgium project proposes to develop a global research tool to make the unique record of Belgian involvement in the creation of international justice available under digital form, accessible for researchers and practitioners through the internet, regardless whether they operate from Canberra, Kigali or Bogota
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).
Objectives and Achievements
Over four and half years, the JUSINBELLGIUM project has developed a global research tool to make the unique record of Belgian involvement in the creation of international criminal justice available under digital form to researchers and legal practitioners. Successive steps, results and challenges have been discussed over teamwork and academic papers and conferences. We have organized two international conferences in Brussels and two international workshops in Germany (Marburg and Wolfenbüttel), we have trained students in documentary management, participated in radio and television programs, and the team members have published articles and books directly related to the project.
This project is one of the most extensive digitisation projects of contemporary historical records undertaken recently. We had thus to deal with documentary, legal and technical challenges, further detailed in this report. Besides making the original records available, we were also committed to providing accurate and authentic information on the war crimes cases via different tools (metadata, abstracts, identification sheet). The comprehensive documentary system we have created enables the user to dive into the documents and to assess, concretely, what was done, and what failed to be done. Two historical collections of Belgian war crimes trials, one from 1924-1925 (86 cases), the other from 1947-1952 (35 cases), have been digitised, described and published via the database of the International Criminal Court. These archives not only offer new insights into the challenges facing international justice today but hopefully also provide a new understanding of judicial policies during these two periods.
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 jurisdiction, enabling investigations on Rwanda or Chad.
After the two World wars, hundreds of war criminals have been prosectued in Belgium for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The digitized collections shed light on these new forms of (inter)national justice. The projects deals in particular with three moments:
1. In absentia trials of German “coupables de guerre” after 1918 (86 cases, 137 defendants);
2. War crimes trials in the 1940s (35 cases, 108 defendants);
3. Extraterritorial jurisdiction and international judicial cooperation since the 1990s (especially the four “Rwanda” trials).
An interdisciplinary database
At the end of the project, a stable, multifunctional, interdisciplinary, multilingual and international research tool is available via the database of the International Criminal Court (www.legal-tools.org). The digital online records collections are the central deliverable of the project and include complete trial files (121 cases) and case-law (143 decisions). The records document the development of international criminal law in the 1920s and the second half of the 1940s. Indeed, these sources enable the reader to examine the grounds on which new international crimes were judged and how they became part of domestic law. These archives also allow reflecting on the evolution of the legal vocabulary for dealing with this category of crime.
International justice as a project: a documentary legacy
The JUSINBELLGIUM project aimed to speak to a global research community and practitioners of international law. To do so, it developed an online digital research tool on this unique record of Belgian involvement in the creation of new forms of international justice since the First World War. The development of this tool consisted of four steps: First, to find, identify and inventorise the records; Second, to digitize them (158.000 pages); Third, to describe them; And finally, to publish the original records online. In ensuring preservation through digitisation and accessibility through online publication, we intended to include the Belgian experience to international interdisciplinary research. The research tool would make these records accessible to multiple users from different disciplinary backgrounds. In choosing to host the digital records in the Legal Tools database of the International Criminal Court (ICC), we sought to provide a sustainable and stable online environment to the Belgian war crimes trials collections.