War Crimes Studies Center
Through our work engaging with justice sector personnel and human rights advocates in a variety of post conflict settings, the WCSC understands how international courts and transitional justice mechanisms can benefit from the observations of dedicated monitors, as well as the feedback experts in the field. While some praise the ingenuity and purported efficiency of hybrid courts, too little critical analysis has been undertaken into their efficacy, the scope of the contribution they make to peace and reconciliation, and the extent to which they achieve adequate fair trial standards. Recognizing the need for robust public dialogue and critical analysis, the War Crimes Studies Center began a permanent monitoring program that has sent monitors to research, report on proceedings, and engage with personnel at the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in East Timor, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. The WCSC approaches monitoring with the belief that frank, constructive criticism from earnest, objective observers, who have an ongoing presence at trials, is indispensable to building stronger more legitimate institutions in the long run.
Past and Current Trial Monitoring Projects
Special Panels for Serious Crimes (SPSC) in Dili, East Timor
In 1999, the UN established investigation and trials in Dili, East Timor. Known as the Special Panels for Serious Crimes (SPSC), these were intended to address the human rights violations occurring prior to the independence of East Timor. the WCSC monitored trials in 2001, and published reports on the proceedings. Since 2002, David Cohen has authored several critical reports about the SPSC, both published by the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Following the closure of the UN SPSC in May 2005, the East-West Center published Cohen’s book length analysis of the entire process, Indifference and Accountability: The United Nations and the Politics of International Justice in East Timor.
Human Rights Ad Hoc Court on East Timor in Jakarta, Indonesia
David Cohen also monitored the Indonesian Ad Hoc Human Rights Tribunal and the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in East Timor. His monographic report on the Indonesian Trials, Intended to Fail, was published by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). The WCSC was the only international body to monitor all 12 of the trials before the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court. Collaboration on monitoring the trials with one of Indonesia’ most important human rights NGO’s marked the beginning of an ongoing working relationship that continues to this day through partnership with human rights training for Indonesian judges, prosecutors, police, and the National Human Rights Commission.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone
While WCSC director, David Cohen monitored and wrote about proceedings at the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in East Timor, the permanent monitoring presence established at the Special Court in Freetown was the first of its kind to be undertaken by the War Crimes Studies Center.
Since 2004, WCSC monitors have been stationed at the Special Court’s facilities in Freetown and the Hague, for a period of three months to one year at a time. Monitors attend trial, conduct research, interview Court personnel, and write reports about their findings. In the five years since trials began, the WCSC has remained the only organization with an ongoing trial monitoring presence at the Special Court. Our monitors have issued over one hundred and twenty regular reports on the daily courtroom proceedings, and published numerous special thematic reports evaluating the overall successes and pitfalls of this model of international criminal justice. Further reports are forthcoming
The WCSC’s Cambodia trial monitoring program, set up in collaboration with the East-West Center (EWC), as part of the Asian International Justice Initiative (AIJI), has two primary aims:
(i) to ensure that the tribunal’s proceedings comply with internationally recognized fair trial standards; and
(ii)to maximize the educational potential of the work of the tribunal.
The monitoring team for the first trial comprises young lawyers and advanced law students from China, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia and Cambodia, alongside monitors from Switzerland, Germany, and the USA. Michelle Staggs Kelsall trains and supervises all monitors, and oversees the production of weekly reports that are disseminated in Khmer, English, Chinese, Indonesian, and French. The team will also periodically produce more in-depth analytical assessments of the ECCC’s progress. WCSC and the AIJI have engaged several international partners in this program.