Courts as interpreters and writers of history: Experiences from the ICTR

Available in Russian

Author: Erik Møse

DOI: 10.21128/2226-2059-2016-4-54-61

Keywords: genocide; historical and ‘courtroom truth’; international criminal tribunals and national courts; The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; the reliability of evidence; truth-finding in the court


This article analyzes the experience of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in terms of its value as a historical source. The Tribunal considered the case against those responsible for the organization of the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda by Government’s army and the Hutu militia. On the basis of the huge collected evidence, the Tribunal have established the fact of the genocide and contributed to understanding of what happened. Without the ICTR some of this information would not have been made available. Collected wealth of information is relevant for the history of Rwanda. The author defines the main differences between the judicial and historical approach to fact-finding. A court acts within a procedural framework and to a large extent depends on the evidence introduced by the parties and accepted by the court as admissible, whereas a historian can select any available material which is considered relevant or, assessing a wide range of factors, conclude that one scenario is more likely than the other. Historical research provides a general context of society and not to the same extent as courts focuses on the specific acts or omissions of individuals to determine their guilt or innocence. Bearing in mind the inherent limitations of the judicial methodology, such as the specific legal framework of each trial, one comes to the conclusion that the courts’ thorough evaluation of material may be of great value in a historic perspective. Both historians and judges are trying to clarify what happened in the past. The differences between their working methods should not be exaggerated and both professions have a role to play.

About the author: Erik Møse – Judge at the European Court of Human Rights (1999–2007: Judge of the ICTR, 2003–2007: President).

Citation: Møse E. (2016) Kak sudy interpretiruyut i pishut istoriyu: iz opyta Mezhdunarodnogo tribunala po Ruande [Courts as interpreters and writers of history: Experiences from the ICTR]. Mezhdunarodnoe pravosudie, no. 4, pp. 54–61. (In Russian).


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