'The Role of Evidence in War Crimes Trials: The Common Law and The Yugoslav Tribunal'
Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law, Vol. 2, pp. 307-323, 2000
Posted: 22 Jun 2009 Last revised: 11 Sep 2015
Date Written: 2000
With the passing into law of the War Crimes Act 1991, the United Kingdom joined such nation states with common law legal systems as Canada and Australia in conferring jurisdiction upon its domestic courts to try individuals suspected of having committed war crimes in Europe during the Second World War. On April 1, 1999, Anthony Sawoniuk became the first person to be convicted under the 1991 Act. The conviction came after an eight-week trial, before a jury at the Central Criminal Court in London, into allegations that Sawoniuk had murdered several Jewish civilians when he took part in ‘search and kill’ operations directed towards those who had escaped the mass slaughter of some 2,900 Jewish civilians in September 1942 on the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur. This research considers the significance of R v Sawoniuk. The case is used as a backdrop for an assessment of the role played by rules of evidence in securing a fair trial for, and testing the case against, war crimes suspects. The study examines whether and to what extent, evidential and procedural rules generally associated with common law legal systems and as applied in domestic, common law trials of suspected war criminals, present barriers to conviction distinct from those discernible in war crimes trials considered in international criminal tribunals.
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