Rwanda: comment juger un génocide?

On 8 April 2019, Ornella Rovetta was Jean Lebrun’s guest speaker in La marche de l’histoire on France Inter, to talk about the challenges of post-genocide justice in Rwanda.

A écouter et réécouter ici

The radio program was being broadcasted in the context of the 25th commemoration of the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi and on the occasion of the publication of the book Un génocide au tribunal: le Rwanda et la justice internationale by Belin

Staging History: Archives, Objects and Architecture

International Workshop
in Wolfenbüttel
16-17 May 2019

The trial before the Belgian military tribunal in 1950

On 17 April 1950, the trial of six guards of the Wolfenbüttel prison began before the military tribunal of Brussels. The six codefendants were, to varying degrees, accused of murder on 40 Belgian, French, Dutch and Polish detainees. Additionally, they were charged with deprivation of food or care on seven mentally or physically weak inmates. Finally, 29 counts of assault and battery on Belgian nationals were also to be judged. Of the 17.000 prisoners (not including those sentenced to death) detained at the prison between 1942 and 1945, 377 died. In the end, one defendant was acquitted in the first instance, two others by the appeals court.

Connecting Documentary Collections

The little-known Wolfenbüttel trial held in Brussels in 1950 produced an exceptional set of documents and witness accounts. It is a rather extraordinary coincidence that the Wolfenbüttel prison has also been a latecomer on the scene of memorials and museums on former sites of Nazi crimes in the Federal Republic of Germany. In April 2018, the Memorial contacted the JUSINBELLGIUM team. Consequently, the Wolfenbüttel trial records were digitised as a priority by the State Archives of Belgium. The digital documents shared with the Memorial will be part of the new exhibition.

Staging History, Handling Mass Documentation

In November 2019, the new Gedenkstätte in der JVA Wolfenbüttel, adjacent to the Wolfenbüttel prison, still in use today, will be inaugurated.

To discuss how archives can be used as exhibits in museums and to reflect on connecting archives and making them accessible, the Jusinbellgium team and the Wolfenbüttel memorial team will hold an international workshop on 16 and 17 May 2019 in Wolfenbüttel.

For more information on the trial, do not hesitate to browse through the online archives:

Vers un nouveau droit de la guerre – Un jour dans l’histoire

Pieter Lagrou and Ornella Rovetta were interviewed by Jean-Pol Hecq on justice after the First World War, an interview broadcasted on RTBF’s Un jour dans l’histoire on 24 October 2018.

Conseil de guerre du Brabant, Jugement contre W., 29.04.1925

Listen to the podcast

A failed precedent? Attempts at international justice in the wake of the first World War and their legacy

On 22 August 2018, Pieter Lagrou gave a keynote lecture at the Conference To End All Wars, in Ypres, Belgium.

The Gendarmerie in Grammont. Between October and November 1917, the Geheime Feldpolizei arrested children in Grammont for alleged sabotage of the railways in September-October 1917. The trial of Max Ramdohr was held in Leipzig in June 1921. 

Appraisals of the various attempts to bring the authors of war crimes to justice after 1918 are univocal: they all resulted in pitiful failure and constituted the scenario of disaster the victorious allies of 1945 were determined to avoid.

The inter-allied special tribunal to judge the Kaiser as foreseen in the Versailles Treaty never materialized. Germany, Turkey and even neutral countries like The Netherlands refused to extradite suspects.

Trials held in Leipzig and Istanbul were largely perceived as making a mockery of justice and the trials in absentia held out of spite in France and Belgium were considered illegitimate by the nations of the defendants and ultimately frustrating by the nations of the victims. The accumulated effect of these failures was the triumph of a culture of impunity, with dramatic consequences during the second World War.

This blighting and widely shared assessment does call for a reassessment. The various attempts to bring war criminals to justice were the result of grassroots initiatives to gather evidence, record testimony and invent ways to challenge standing practice that national states and national armies had the exclusive and sovereign right to bring their own soldiers to trial.

The sheer size of popular involvement in initiatives to collect evidence on crimes in anticipation of legal process turned it, in all belligerent societies, into a weapon of mass documentation.

Neither can these attempts be reduced to the judicial version of nationalist propaganda campaigns denouncing the enemy. Part of the public opinion, of the political leaders and of the judicial profession in Germany and Turkey were sincerely committed to reign in the culture of impunity in which their national armies and their political allies acted and to distance themselves of some of the most heinous crimes committed in their name.

Investigating judges and political leaders in countries that had been exposed to these crimes framed some of their cases in such a way as to seize on what they perceived as overtures on the side of the judiciary of their former enemies and establish a dialogue of shared norms of what constituted humanity, atrocity, war crimes and due legal process.

The attempts were ultimately unsuccessful but they did constitute a crucial and massive attempt to defeat impunity and, in a way, to End All Wars of unlimited recourse to violence.

From Belgium to the Hague via Berlin and Moscow

On 10 July 2018, Delphine Lauwers gave a paper at the International Society for First World War Studies conference “Recording, Narrating and Archiving the First World War”, held in Melbourne.

From Belgium to the Hague via Berlin and Moscow: Documenting war crimes and the quest for international justice







Being able to explore new sources on the Great War, a hundred years after it ended is a quite unique and exciting experience for any WWI historian. But the very nature of the documents that we are dealing with in the present case makes it even more thrilling. We are indeed facing hundreds of investigation and prosecution files, produced by both military and civil jurisdictions during and after the Great War in Belgium. These records offer new material for the study of WWI in Belgium, as well as of the history of international criminal law.

But why would such a rich, fascinating collection remain unexploited? All of it was in fact packed together with a vast amount of various documents, and kept more than 2.500 km away from Brussels for 57 years. It seems like the very existence of some of these documents fell into oblivion as time passed. Before diving into these amazing “sleeping beauties”, let us briefly explain why they have traveled that far and have remained largely unheard of until recently.

International Conference 9 & 10 January 2018

A Century of Pioneering Case-Law in the Digital Era. Belgian Precedents of International Justice in International Perspective (1914-2014)




Download the complete programme 

Register for the conference and Archive visit

The conference discusses the sources of new forms of international justice in three directions:  (1) Case-law in the digital era: archival and legal challenges of online access (2) German Atrocities, 1914. Litigation, Reconciliation, Justice (3) The three moments of International Justice (>1918; >1945; >1990s): Learning from failure or building on precedent. It brings together historians, jurists, anthropologists, archivists, and legal professionals to debate the challenges of access and critical interpretation of sources of (inter)national justice.

The panel discussions and the project presentation will discuss these specific moments and forms of justice through the research experiences of the conference participants. They will question the uses of digital sources, the technological challenges, the ethics of research and the accessibility policies.

Archives as a larger heritage and as material for research will be questioned in the perspective of the emergence of a new form of “public history” in the wake of extensive online access of documentary collections. The diversity of these judicial sources, the challenges of their interpretation and their uses in the humanities and the legal sciences will be debated.

Keynote Lecture

Kim Christian Priemel (University of Oslo) will deliver a lecture on his book The Betrayal. The Nuremberg Trials and German Divergence.
The lecture will be introduced by Pieter Lagrou (ULB)
Where? ULB – Solbosch Campus – Room AY2.108
When? 9 January 2018 – 16h0-18h00

Conference Venue

  • Day 1: 9 January 2018
    Université libre de Bruxelles. Campus: Solbosch. Room: AY2.108
    Av. F.D. Roosevelt 50. 1050 Brussels
  • Day 2: 10 January 2018
    Dépôt Cuvelier, Archives Générales du Royaume 2. Reading Room
    Rue du Houblon 26-28. 1000 Brussels

Conference participants

– Vanessa Voisin (CERCEC)
– Edwin Klijn (NIOD)
– Paul Drossens (State Archives of Belgium)
– Gertjan Desmet (State Archives of Belgium)
– Chantal Kesteloot (Cegesoma)
– Kim Christian Priemel (University of Oslo)
– John Horne (Trinity College Dublin)
– Alan Kramer (Trinity College Dublin)
– Martin Kohlrausch (KU Leuven)
– Xavier Rousseaux (UCL)
– Sebastiaan Vandenbogaerde (UGent)

– Thijs Bouwknegt (NIOD)
– Élisabeth Claverie (ISP)
– Luc Walleyn (Lawyer)
– Pieter Lagrou (ULB)
– Jan Wouters (Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies)
– Wolfgang Form (International Research and Documentation Centre for War Crimes Trials)
– Marie-Anne Weisers (ULB)
– Hendrik Vandekerckhove (Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies)
– Delphine Lauwers (State Archives of Belgium)
– Ornella Rovetta (ULB)

Organizing committee

– Pieter Lagrou, Professor, Université libre de Bruxelles, Centre de recherche MMC
– Xavier Rousseaux, Research Director FNRS, Université catholique de Louvain
– Ornella Rovetta, Post-doctoral researcher, Université libre de Bruxelles, Centre de recherche MMC
– Delphine Lauwers, Post-doctoral researcher, Archives Générales du Royaume
– Hendrik Vandekerckhove, PhD researcher, KU Leuven, Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies

Scientific committee

– Pieter Lagrou, Professor, Université libre de Bruxelles, Centre de recherche MMC
– Xavier Rousseaux, Research Director FNRS, Université catholique de Louvain 
– Wolfgang Form, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Research Director of the International Research and Documentation Center for War Crimes Trials
– Jan Wouters, Professor, KU Leuven, Director of the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies
– Paul Drossens, Head of State Archives in Ghent
– Vanessa Voisin, CERCEC, Coordinator of ANR « Les crimes de guerre nazis dans le prétoire, Europe centrale et orientale, 1943-1991 (2017-2021) ».

Justice de genre dans les procès contre les “Ausiliarie” de la République de Salò. Les actions de la Corte d’assise straordinaria de Turin pendant les années 1945-1947

By Cecilia Toninato (Summary of Master’s Thesis in History at the University of Torino, 2017)

Mes recherches ont porté sur les procès et les jugements d’un groupe de vingt-trois femmes qui ont collaboré avec le nazi-fascisme pendant la République de Salò (1943-1945) et qui, pour cette raison, ont été jugées par la « Corte d’assise straordinaria » (Cour d’assises extraordinaire) de Turin pendant les années 1945-1947. Sur un total de 117 collaboratrices jugées, je me suis concentrée sur 23 femmes en raison de leur participation au « Servizio ausiliario femminile » (Service auxiliaire féminin), crée le 18 Avril 1944. Ces femmes ont donc volontairement décidé de combattre aux côtés du nouveau gouvernement fasciste de Salò.

La problématique de cette recherche est la suivante : pouvons-nous parler d’une « justice de genre » pour les cas des femmes jugées pour collaboration par la « Corte d’assise straordinaria » de Turin ?

L’objectif premier des tribunaux créés après la Seconde Guerre mondiale a été de punir les collaborateurs, pour rendre justice aux personnes lésées par le régime fasciste. Mais il faut toujours garder à l’esprit que les Cours se sont trouvées confrontées à la mentalité de l’époque et à de nombreux préjugés communs.

A Turin, la résistance était en outre très importante et largement soutenue par la population, qui était venue en aide aux partisans. La poursuite des collaborateurs y était dès lors un devoir d’autant plus important.

Les tribunaux étaient assaillis de personnes voulant assister aux procès. Par conséquent les juges et les avocats ont pu être influencés par l’état d’esprit du public. Pendant les six premiers mois de fonctionnement de la Corte d’assise straordinaria de Turin, des haut-parleurs ont été installés à l’extérieur des tribunaux pour permettre au plus grand nombre de personnes d’entendre les jugements. Pendant les procès contre les femmes, cet intérêt se fit encore plus marqué.

> Cecilia Toninato, Giustizia di genere nei processi alle “Ausiliarie” della Rsi: l’operato della Corte d’Assise Straordinaria di Torino (1945-1947),
Università degli Studi di Torino, Corso di Laurea Magistrale in Scienze Storiche, Promoteur de mémoire (Relatore) Prof. Mauro Forno, année académique 2015/2016, 6 avril 2017, 138p.
> Image: Jugement, Corte d’Assise Straordinaria (1945)

Cecilia Toninato – les procès des Ausiliarie de la République de Salò

Le procès d’Otto Siegburg (1949): la justice belge et le crime contre l’Humanité

Lors de la journée d’étude « Le siège de la Gestapo à Bruxelles – Reconnaissance et conservation » qui a été organisée le vendredi 21 octobre 2011 à la Bibliothèque Royale par la Mémoire d’Auschwitz ASBL et la Fondation Auschwitz, Marie-Anne Weisers a présenté ses recherches sur le procès Siegburg “Un chasseur de Juifs au tribunal. Otto Siegburg, la justice belge et le crime contre l’humanité”. Cette journée a porté sur le siège de la Gestapo à Bruxelles et les éventuelles possibilités de classement des caves des bâtiments occupés. Le classement définitif de ces caves a eu lieu en janvier 2016.

Les actes du colloque ont fait l’objet de la publication suivante: Daniel Weyssow (dir.), Les caves de la Gestapo. Reconnaissance et conservation, Paris, Éditions Kimé, 2013, 213 p. (n° 5)

Archives of the Tutsi genocide

On 22 May 2016, the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris organized a conference with the aim to reflect on a cartography and a typology of the available archives on the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda of 1994: “Les archives disponibles sur le génocide des Tutsi au Rwanda : cartographie et typologie”.

Conference presentation: “La construction de la mémoire a besoin d’attestation des faits. Or, l’ordonnateur des meurtres écrit et signe rarement le plan et les ordres. Tout est en filigrane des entretiens oraux et des allusions écrites. En ce qui concerne le génocide des Tutsi, ce défi est accentué par le marqueur oral de la culture. Vingt-deux ans après les événements, la création d’un fonds rassemblant l’ensemble des informations relatives à cette histoire s’avère indispensable. Cette journée dédiée permet de faire le point sur les possibilités d’accès des archives publiques et privées, un bilan des sources disponibles (sons, images, articles de presse, télégrammes diplomatiques, mais aussi des témoignages de rescapés, religieux, journalistes, diplomates, humanitaires…) et tente de définir les critères qui permettront de construire ce fonds documentaire”.

Les archives disponibles sur le génocide des Tutsi au Rwanda

This reflection on the collection and preservation of archival collections, including judicial documents (panel 3: “Quelle postérité pour les archives judiciaires“) was of direct interest to the Jusinbellgium project. Indeed, not only do Belgian judicial archives contain many documents related to the Tutsi genocide, but Belgium has organized several trials which have dealt with the crimes of genocide and the crimes against humanity perpetrated in Rwanda. Ornella Rovetta presented a paper titled “Quelle postérité pour les archives judiciaires ? Le cas du TPIR”.

The conference presentations and debates can be seen online:

Panel 1: Le rôle de l’archive dans le combat militant et historique : natures, statuts et apports. With Marcel Kabanda, historien, président d’Ibuka France, Jean-Pierre Chrétien, historien, directeur de recherche CNRS, Arno Klarsfeld, and Yves Ternon, historien, université Paris 4.

Panel 2: Recueil et usage du témoignage oral. Médias, thérapies, filmages. With: Jeanne Allaire-Kayigirwa, Ibuka Lyon, Hélène Dumas, historienne, CNRS, Les Afriques dans le Monde (LAM) and Emilienne Mukansoro, psychothérapeute à Muhanga (Rwanda).

Panel 3: Quelle postérité pour les archives judiciaires ? With Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, historien, directeur d’études, EHESS, Damascène Bizimana, secrétaire exécutif de la Commission nationale de lutte contre le génocide (CNLG), Kate Mackintosh, greffière adjointe, Tribunal pénal international pour l’ex-Yougoslavie (TPIY), François-Xavier Nsanzuwera, avocat auprès de la chambre d’appel, bureau du procureur du Tribunal Pénal International pour le Rwanda (TPIR), and  Ornella Rovetta, post-doctorante au centre de recherche Mondes Modernes et Contemporains (MMC), Université libre de Bruxelles.

Panel 4: Accès et valorisation des archives publiques et privées. With Jean-François Dupaquier, journaliste, écrivain. Pierre Brana, corapporteur à la Mission d’information parlementaire sur le Rwanda en 1998, and Jean-Christophe Klotz, journaliste, réalisateur. And conclusions by Rémi Korman, doctorant, Centre de recherches historiques (CRH) and Florent Piton, doctorant, Centre d’Études en Sciences Sociales sur les Mondes Africains, Américains et Asiatiques (CESSMA), université Paris 7 – Diderot.

Ornella Rovetta

The Jean-Paul Akayesu trial through its archives

De janvier 1997 à septembre 1998 s’est tenu, à Arusha, en Tanzanie, le premier procès du Tribunal pénal international pour le Rwanda (TPIR). Le  procès de l’ex-bourgmestre Jean-Paul Akayesu s’est saisi du cadre communal pour construire un récit des massacres dans lequel apparaissait le rôle joué par les autorités locales. Les témoignages des anciens habitants de la commune ont constitué l’épine dorsale du procès et forment ainsi l’essentiel de la narration judiciaire de l’événement.

La Marche du Monde, 21 mai 2016, RFI

L’émission La Marche du Monde de Valérie Nivelon a proposé de revivre ce procès aux sons des archives du TPIR: Quel a été le rôle des maires en général, et de Jean-Paul Akayesu en particulier dans le massacre des Tutsi dans la commune de Taba, et comment les archives du TPIR nous donnent-elles à entendre cette histoire ? L’émission dont Ornella Rovetta était l’invitée a été diffusée le 21 mai 2016 sur RFI.

03/2016, Workshop: ‘Defeating Impunity, Promoting International Justice’

Defeating Impunity poster

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

programme 9-10 mars bis



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. The central aim of this 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

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 videos

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.

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