International criminal tribunals exist to investigate and prosecute individual people for serious violations of international criminal law or international humanitarian law – such as war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity – when national authorities are unable or unwilling to do so. Such courts may be established by a multilateral international agreement (“international tribunals”) or by an agreement between one State and an intergovernmental organizational (“hybrid tribunals”).
The only permanent supranational court dedicated to atrocity crimes is the International Criminal Court (ICC), which began operating in 2002. While the ICC’s authority is limited by certain requirements, it is designed to address atrocities around the world and into the future.
In contrast, the international community has established other criminal tribunals that are each focused on a specific place and time, corresponding to a particularly intense period of past conflict or unrest involving widespread human rights abuses. International criminal tribunals established to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, include:
- International Military Tribunal for Germany (Nuremberg Tribunal)
- International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo trials)
The international community has also cooperated with national governments to establish “internationalized” or “hybrid” tribunals to prosecute international crimes. These courts may operate exclusively within a national judicial system or may have been established by an agreement between the United Nations and the national government, and as such, their staffing and judicial composition may be national or international in nature. Some examples include the following:
- Serious Crimes Panels of the Dili District Court (East Timor)
- Special Department for Adjudicating in Trials Against Perpetrators of War Crimes of the Belgrade District Court (Serbia)
- Scottish High Court of Justiciary, sitting in the Netherlands (Lockerbie trial)