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)




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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) ».

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