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


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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