Exploration 4B: Judicial Options


Exploration 4A introduced students to the reasons for dealing with violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and to different ways of doing so. Explorations 4B and 4C look more closely at specific mechanisms for addressing serious violations of IHL.

In Exploration 4B, students explore the efforts that have been made at various levels, since World War II, to bring perpetrators of serious IHL violations to trial. They look at examples of national, international and ‘hybrid’ courts and compare these different ways of administering justice.

This course is three 45- minute sessions (longer if all work is done during class).


  • To recognize that States must bring to trial those who commit grave breaches of IHL, regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or the victim or where the crime took place
  • To acquire an understanding of the different judicial ways of dealing with war crimes (national, international, ‘hybrid’ courts)
  • To realize that these judicial approaches complement each other and that all contribute to the international community’s efforts to bring war criminals to justice

Key Ideas

  • States must bring to trial and punish those who commit grave breaches of IHL, regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or the victim or where the crime took place.
  • Efforts have been made at different times and at various levels to try and to punish war criminals.
  • While judicial ways of dealing with IHL violations may differ, they complement each other and contribute to the common effort of the international community to bring war criminals to court.


Choose which tribunal (Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia) you will use in step 4.

Plan how to work through the exploration in light of available class time. Assign all preparatory reading and writing for homework (the reading and writing in step 3 and the reading in preparation for the debate in step 6).

In the Methodology Guide, review teaching methods 1 (Discussion), 5 (Role-playing), 7 (Writing and reflecting), 9 (Small groups) and 10 (Gathering stories and news).



Introduction | 5 minutes

Find out what students know about judicial efforts to address war crimes.

Possible question:

  • Do you know of any war criminals who have been brought to trial?

  • 2

    National War Crimes Tribunals | 20 minutes

    Remind students that the Geneva Conventions require governments to try and punish those who commit grave breaches of IHL.

    Explain that these crimes are so serious that governments are, in fact, obliged to try and punish any person, regardless of:

  • His or her nationality
  • The nationality of the victim
  • The place where the crime occurred.
  • Then divide the class into small groups. Assign one of the examples in “Foreign cases’ before national tribunals” to half the groups and the other example to the other half.

    Instruct the groups to study the case assigned to them and to prepare answers to the questions at the end.

    After about 10 minutes, have each group report to the class.

    During their reports, list the reasons given by students and explain anything they may not have understood.


    Ad Hoc International Tribunals | 30 minutes

    Check that students understand what ad hoc means. Give them an example of its use in a sentence.

    Next, encourage students to share what they know about the violence that occurred during the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia or in Rwanda.

    Distribute copies of the “Towards a new type of court: The situation in the former Yugoslavia” page or the “Towards a new type of court: The situation in Rwanda” page, depending on the case you have chosen.

    Divide students into small groups, and have each group write down their ideas for setting up an ad hoc international criminal tribunal to deal with the case that has been chosen. Ask them to make use of the questions at the end.

    When they have done this, distribute “Ad hoc international criminal tribunals.”

    Instruct the groups to compare their ideas with the information given in the fact sheet.

    Explain that the fact sheet tells them about another ad hoc tribunal as well (one established to deal with war crimes committed in a context different from the one they have been asked to think about, either the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda). Note the acronym for each.

    Then reconvene the class to discuss what they have learned.

    Possible questions:

  • Did anything in the fact sheet surprise you?
  • What are the similarities between the two tribunals?
  • What are the differences between them?

  • 4

    The Permanent International Criminal Court | 25 minutes

    Ask students to read “The permanent International Criminal Court” and to discuss the question at the end.

    Then have them work in pairs to prepare some quiz game questions about the International Criminal Court (ICC). If time permits, they can also prepare a few bonus questions on the similarities and differences between the ad hoc international criminal tribunals and the ICC, using “Ad hoc international criminal tribunals.”

    Conduct a quiz game based on their questions. Divide the class into two quiz teams. Have students from each quiz team take turns posing one of their questions to the other quiz team. A team earns a point when one of its members answers correctly.


    ‘Hybrid’ Courts | 25 minutes, additional time if the reading is done in class

    Tell students that following recent war crimes trials in both national and international courts, a new approach is emerging. It takes the form of ‘hybrid’ courts, which try to take advantage of the most useful elements of both national and international courts.

    Possible question:

  • If you were to design a new type of court that combined elements of international and national courts, what would your court be like?
  • Divide the class into four debate teams. Distribute the “‘Hybrid’ courts: Special Court for Sierra Leone” page to two of the groups and the “‘Hybrid’ courts: Special Panels for Serious Crimes in Timor-Leste” page to the other two.

    Explain that each team must be prepared to either support or oppose the following statement.

    ‘Hybrid’ courts are more effective than international or national tribunals.

    Assign debate positions:

  • Team 1: Sierra Leone – support the statement;
  • Team 2: Sierra Leone – oppose the statement;
  • Team 3: Timor-Leste – support the statement;
  • Team 4: Timor-Leste – oppose the statement;
  • As homework, ask students to read the fact sheet and to think about their assigned debate positions. Give the groups time in class to prepare for the debate.

    Have students choose one speaker to represent each group.

    Decide the order of the proceedings (for example, you might have Sierra Leone, pro and con, followed by Timor-Leste, pro and con, or you might have those supporting the statement go first, followed by those opposing it).

    Hold the debate.


    Closing | 5 minutes

    Possible questions:

  • How do you think trials and punishments could deter people from committing war crimes?
  • Why do you think there are so many ways of trying and punishing war criminals?