Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

7/1/2009 - 6/30/2010

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

The Uses of Historical Evidence at International Criminal Tribunals

FAIN: FA-54532-09

Richard Ashby Wilson
University of Connecticut (Storrs, CT 06269-9000)

International criminal trials represent one of the most significant human rights interventions in recent history. This project focuses on three United Nations tribunals: the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and the International Criminal Court. It addresses the kinds of histories they produce, and in particular how they deal with the macro-historical context of abuses, including cultural conditions and structural factors. It employs the theory and methods of socio-cultural anthropology to provide thorough documentation and analysis of the internal workings of the tribunals, leading to generalizations about how they create historical explanations of armed conflict. On the basis of numerous interviews with staff at the tribunals, it advances a new theoretical position on the relationship between law, legal knowledge and history. During the Fellowship I will complete a nine-chapter manuscript for publication.

Media Coverage

Seeing Like a Court: Documenting Histories of Armed Conflict through the Lens of Judging International Crimes (Review)
Author(s): Victor Peskin
Publication: Human Rights Quarterly
Date: 8/1/2013

Historial Claims and International Criminal Trials (Review)
Author(s): Tobias Kelly
Publication: Journal of Human Rights Practice
Date: 2/7/2012

Associated Products

Writing HIstory in International Criminal Trials (Book)
Title: Writing HIstory in International Criminal Trials
Author: Richard Ashby Wilson
Abstract: Why do international criminal tribunals write histories of the origins and causes of armed conflicts? Richard Ashby Wilson conducted empirical research with judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and expert witnesses in three international criminal tribunals to understand how law and history are combined in the courtroom. Historical testimony is now an integral part of international trials, with prosecutors and defense teams using background testimony to pursue decidedly legal objectives. Both use historical narratives to frame the alleged crimes and to articulate their side's theory of the case. In the Slobodan Miloševic trial, the prosecution sought to demonstrate special intent to commit genocide by reference to a long-standing animus, nurtured within a nationalist mind-set. For their part, the defense calls historical witnesses to undermine charges of superior responsibility, and to mitigate the sentence by representing crimes as reprisals. Although legal ways of knowing are distinctive from those of history, the two are effectively combined in international trials in a way that challenges us to rethink the relationship between law and history.
Year: 2011
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Cambridge UP
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Google Books
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780521138314
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes

Through The Lens of International Criminal Law: Comprehending the African Context of Crimes at the International Criminal Court. (Article)
Title: Through The Lens of International Criminal Law: Comprehending the African Context of Crimes at the International Criminal Court.
Author: Richard Ashby Wilson
Abstract: This article examines how the African context of alleged crimes is presented and evaluated in trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC). It does this by examining the evidence of two expert witnesses, one called by the prosecution and the other by the judges, who testified during the first trial at the ICC of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo regarding the context of crimes in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). What images of the Ituri conflict did the experts convey, what evidence did they provide in support of their claims and how was this evidence deployed and understood by the legal actors? In reviewing the cross-examination of experts, it becomes clear that the defense sought to accentuate the ethnic dimensions of the conflict in order to mount a necessity defense. In its quest for causal connections that allow it to assign guilt or innocence, the court was compelled to apprehend the crimes through a legal framework based upon documented and verifiable facts. Firsthand experience of Africa and more ethnographic and qualitative understandings were generally dismissed by the bench of international judges.
Year: 2011
Primary URL:
Access Model: Subscription
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism
Publisher: Wiley

When Humanity Sits in Judgment: the conundrum of race and ethnicity at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (Book Section)
Title: When Humanity Sits in Judgment: the conundrum of race and ethnicity at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
Author: Richard Ashby Wilson
Editor: Miriam Ticktin and Ilana Feldman
Abstract: In order to exercise universal jurisdiction, the international humanitarian law that grounds modern international criminal tribunals and courts (e.g., for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, and the International Criminal Court) in most instances requires an undifferentiated notion of “humanity.” This chapter investigates some of the problems that arise in international courts when representatives of “humanity” come to deliver judgment on acts of racially motivated mass violence.
Year: 2010
Primary URL:
Publisher: Duke University Press
Book Title: In the Name of Humanity: the Government of Threat and Care
ISBN: 0822348217