Centre for International Courts and Tribunals


The Impact of International Courts on Domestic Criminal Procedures in Mass Atrocity Cases - DOMAC

The DOMAC research project seeks to assess the impact of international court procedures on domestic procedures for putting to trial the perpetrators of mass atrocities

2 January 2008

The context for the project is the establishment since 1993 of a number of new international or mixed criminal tribunals, including the ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The project focuses on the actual interaction between national and international courts involved in prosecuting individuals in mass atrocity situations.

It explores what impact international procedures have on prosecution rates before national courts, their sentencing, policies, award of reparations and substantive procedural legal standards.

It examines the problems presented by the limited response of the international community to mass atrocity situations, and aims to offer methods to improve coordination of national and international proceedings and better utilization of national courts, inter alia, through greater formal and informal avenues of cooperation, interaction and resource sharing between national and international courts. 

DOMAC is funded under the Seventh Framework Programme for EU Research (FP7). It will run for three years starting 1st February 2008. Participants are Reykjavik University (Coordinator), University of Amsterdam, Hebrew University and UCL). 

The research team at UCL's Centre for International Courts and Tribunals includes:

  • Ruth Mackenzie, Deputy Director CICT and Principal Research Fellow, Faculty of Laws, UCL (Principal Investigator)
  • Alejandro Chehtman, Research Associate, CICT, Faculty of Laws, UCL
  • Silvia Borelli, Research Fellow, Faculty of Laws, UCL
  • Kate Barber, Administrator, CICT, Faculty of Laws, UCL The Research

The role of International courts and tribunals

International courts and tribunals have become major players in the fight against impunity and the enforcement of international criminal law. Since 1993, a number of new international criminal tribunals have been created to address some of the most serious violations of international criminal law.

The stated mission of these new tribunals has been to bring an end to impunity, and their creation was broadly perceived as a sign of the maturation of international law and as indicative of its improved enforcement capabilities. 

Still, with the hindsight of almost 15 years since the beginning of this 'new wave' of international judicial proceedings seeking to establish criminal responsibility for the perpetration of mass atrocities, the contribution of international and internationalized (or hybrid) courts to the overall fight against impunity may seem questionable.

The actual number of international prosecutions has been relatively small pertaining only to a fraction of the individuals suspected of perpetrating international crimes. And ongoing violations of human rights on a massive scale in Sudan and other places also put into question the degree of deterrence actually produced by the different international criminal procedures. 

Due to the limited capabilities of international courts, the vast majority of trials of individuals suspected of perpetrating criminal offences in the context of mass atrocity situations is expected to take place before the domestic courts of the state in whose territory the events took place, or in the state of nationality of the perpetrators.

Such trials do not only present a way to reduce costs and improve enforcement capabilities, they may also enjoy greater social legitimacy than trials conducted by international courts. 

The DOMAC project comprises three distinct, yet inter-related analytical components. First, it will gather data and offer analysis of the actual interaction between national and international courts in mass atrocity situations exploring, cross-fertilization between national and international courts.

In addition, it will explore the actual interplay between national and international courts in the context of specific case studies, and the specific interaction facilitated by the involvement of the International Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights in mass atrocity situations.

Secondly, it will analyse the problems that lack of coordination and synchronization and under-utilization of national courts create.

Thirdly, the project will consider specific solutions to the problems identified. Some of these deal with past attempts to improve coordination between national and international courts.

Strategic Impact 

The DOMAC Project will entail original case studies and comparisons of their interactions between the different legal systems domestic, regional, and international and it will make recommendations for optimizing the complementary nature of international and national courts.

The project aims to contribute to the formulation, development and implementation of policy at European or national level, including peace-building and peace-keeping initiatives, and to informed and effective policy-making with respect to international criminal justice and responses to mass atrocities 

The outcomes of this empirical research will allow for more rational decision making, inter alia, on the allocation of resources, coordination or synchronization-enhancing strategies and other policy decisions affecting national and international courts, and the relations between them.

Further information

Further information about the project is available at the DOMAC project website or from Alejandro Chehtman at: a.chehtman@ucl.ac.uk