A Swedish lawyer in an International Tribunal

“More than Six Thousand Pages Were Needed to Include All the Witness Statements”

On a recent Thursday morning at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, we had a chance to speak with Dr.Lennart Aspegren, a well-known Swedish lawyer and judge.

“So, how can I help you?” he asked.

Aspegren is best known from his years as a Judge at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and his work in the UN Expert Committee for Gaza in 2011, to name just a few of his many accomplishments. We sat down to talk about these incredible experiences in the field of human rights.

Concerning the ICTR

A Member of the ICTR, Aspegren had the chance to work closely with the future UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. “One of the many things we discovered during those proceedings is that rape can be a form of genocide,” he said.

At the well-known Akeyesu trial in 1998, the accused was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for acts he engaged in and oversaw while mayor of a town in Rwanda. This was the first time ever that someone was tried for having committed genocide. In the Tribunal’s judgement it was named as “the crime of crimes.”

“Not even Eichmann in Israel, who was accused of having committed crimes against humanity, was charged with genocide,” he said. “The trial went on for about 18 months. More than six thousand pages were needed to include all the witness statements.”

Since the word rape is not explicitly included in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), some thought that rape only could qualify as a form of a crime against humanity. However, in the Akayesu case, the ICTR made it clear that rape and other types of sexual violence could also amount to a form of genocide.

On the UN Expert Committee for Gaza

The UN Human Rights Council’s Committee in question had two members, Aspegren and the Chairperson, his colleague, Judge Mary Davis from the US. “We worked very well together,” he said.

He stressed the complexity of the situation. And while he recognized Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks by Hamas, he also said, “Occupying forces have a duty towards the people living in the occupied territories — to ensure respect for human rights.”

In 2011, the Committee presented a report which was widely welcomed by the Human Rights Council in Geneva. However the US and Isreal voted against it.

You can read the so-called “Davis/Aspegren Report” here.

 

 

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