International Criminal Courtrooms

Reading descriptions of the unusual courtroom Dan Kiley designed for the international war crimes trials at Nuremberg prodded me to do some further research into how the Nuremberg courtroom compared to those created for other international trials.

The closest counterpart to Nuremberg were the Tokyo war crimes trials, held in the former Japanese Army headquarters at Ichigaya. Similar to at Nuremberg, the primary axis of the room ran between the judges on their raised dais and the defendants in the dock. The space between the two were filled with prosecution and defense lawyers, with extensive press seating and public gallery to the right of the judges – perpendicular to the main axis – and seating for dignitaries and a motion picture booth to the left.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), first of the new generation of international tribunals created in the 1990s, adopted a more conventional layout for its first courtroom. In Alphabet City no. 7 architect Laura Kurgan dicusses the arrangement of Courtroom One, the first of three that were retrofitted into the Aegon Insurance Building in The Hague. Unlike the courtrooms at Nuremberg and Tokyo, ICTY Courtroom One positions the prosecution, defense, witness, and public in a semicircular arc facing the judges. The prosecution and defense are closest, with desks angled towards the judges, while the public sits behind a pane of bulletproof glass. More importantly, four cameras controlled from a separate booth not only film the proceedings but broadcast the proceedings on a thirty-minute delay (to protect witness confidentiality) over the internet. (You can see the feed here.) The televised proceedings represent a continuity of sorts with the post-war war crimes trials: the Nuremberg trials pioneered techincal and procedural tools for simultaneous interpretation.

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The courtroom of the ICTY; the visitor’s gallery is to the left, out of frame.

Since the ICTY opened its doors, that court has been followed by others: the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT; which replaces both the ICTY and ICTR), and the International Criminal Court (ICC), plus hybrid UN-national courts. While the ICTR, like the ICTY, had to make do with a pre-existing building in Arusha, Tanzania, the MICT will have a brand-new compound in Arusha and the ICC has already moved into its own purpose-built facility in The Hague.

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The Chief Prosecutor and ICTR judges after a swearing in ceremony for the judges.

None of these institutions seem particularly inclined to publicize the physical arrangements of their courtrooms, so writing about them remains a work in progress for me. The ICC’s photos and B-reel of its new courtroom does show a room that’s a little more austere than the ICTR or ICTY premises, with less warm wood and more cool white. A philosophical distinction, or just a change of decorators?


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