African Languages in International Criminal Justice

Posted: 26 Mar 2014

See all articles by Leigh Swigart

Leigh Swigart

Brandeis University - International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life

Date Written: 2014


As the media reminds us constantly, Africa is the site of numerous investigations and procedures by international criminal courts and tribunals. With the trials of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) essentially finished, and the International Criminal Court now into its second decade of operation, it is a good moment to take a step back and look at how these institutions deal with the languages of their constituents.  A central question is this: how can international criminal courts and tribunals increase access to their institutions and enhance their legitimacy by recognizing the languages primarily used by the persons most closely connected to their proceedings? This paper is based on ongoing research about the various roles played by African languages in institutions of international criminal justice. Through interviews with judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, and outreach officers from the three courts mentioned above, the paper provides a picture of how African languages are being used and not used in three critical areas: formal criminal investigations and proceedings; outreach to the regions where genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity have been committed; and communication with victims of these crimes.

Suggested Citation

Swigart, Leigh, African Languages in International Criminal Justice (2014). ASA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Leigh Swigart (Contact Author)

Brandeis University - International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life ( email )

Waltham, MA 02454
United States
7817368577 (Phone)
7817368561 (Fax)

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