Does the pace of the International Criminal Court justify the charge that it is the slowest international criminal tribunal in history?
Earlier this month, the Trial Chamber in the Lubanga case announced that the trial will begin on 31 March 2008. It is the first case at the International Criminal Court to come to trial. Lubanga first appeared before the Court on 20 March 2006, after being transferred from the Democratic Republic of Congo where he had already been in detention for some time. Delay from initial appearance to the start of trial: 741 days.
How does this compare with the other international criminal tribunals? The first trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, of Dusko Tadic, began on 7 May 1996. Tadic was arrested in Germany in February 1994, but proceedings before the International Tribunal only began on 12 October 1994. His initial appearance in the Hague took place on 26 April 1995. Delay from initial appearance to the start of trial: 376 days.
The first trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, of Jean-Paul Akayesu, began on 9 January 1997. Akayesu had been arrested in Zambia on 10 October 1995, he was indicted on 13 February 1996, and he first appeared in Arusha before the Tribunal on 26 May 1996. Delay from initial appearance to the start of trial: 225 days.
The first trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone began on 3 June 2004. The accused were arrested on or about 7 March 2003, and appeared in Court shortly afterward for the first time. Delay from initial appearance to the start of trial: 453 days.
To recapitulate: ICC: 741; ICTY: 376; ICTR: 225; SCSL: 453.
To be fair to the ICC, it is burdened with an additional procedural step, the ‘confirmation hearing’, which is provided for by article 61 of the Rome Statute. But that hearing ended on 28 November 2006 (the decision wasn’t delivered until late January). By 31 March 2008, when the Lubanga trial begins, it will be 487 days since the end of the ‘confirmation hearing’, which is still longer than any of the other tribunals has taken from initial appearance to start of trial.
The ‘confirmation hearing’ looks to be an unnecessary and superfluous business that adds little or nothing to the proceedings, except additional cost and delay. Perhaps the Review Conference, in 2010, will see fit to abolish it. But even when we factor in the delay for the ‘confirmation hearing’, the ICC stills takes the cake as the slowest international criminal tribunal in history.
As a general observation, modern international criminal trials take much too long. One might have hoped that the International Criminal Court would be trying to correct this weakness in the system. But right now it looks as if the problem is getting worse, not better.