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