Briefing paper

Guilt admissions and interview techniques in International Criminal Courts and Tribunals

30 Apr 2012

This paper considers the context and reasons underlying the small number of guilt admissions in international criminal courts and tribunals, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court.

Limited attention has been paid to the rationale that may induce perpetrators of war crimes to plead guilty. In particular, as this paper outlines, interviewing techniques may be a key component in influencing guilt admission in the investigation and trial process. Such admissions can also assist in reconciliation and recognition of past crimes. The author concludes by outlining future research on the incorporation of effective interview techniques into international war crime investigations.

Prosecutions of international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide are complex and gathering information for cases is extremely difficult. Yet guilt admissions are a vital element of both preventing and coping with international crimes. Guilt admissions can provide us with an insight into why such crimes were committed, as well as being a coping mechanism for both victim and perpetrator. Outlined in this paper is a project that will ultimately assist international criminal justice practitioners in a number of ways; it will increase their success in prosecutions; contribute to an increase in guilty pleas; and increase reconciliation, truth-telling and forgiveness. This inter-disciplinary study involves aspects of law, psychology, criminology, and socio-legal theory; these theoretical bases will inform analysis of the praxis of the investigators and lawyers in the courts and tribunals. The results of this study will contribute to:

  • Shorter trials using fewer resources; less confrontational situations and more consolation for victims;
  • Rehabilitation for both victims and perpetrators; and
  • A standard interview technique procedure to be available across all international criminal courts and tribunals, in particular the International Criminal Court (ICC).
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