Virtual Tribunal of the Special Court for Sierra Leone


Virtual Tribunal of the Special Court for Sierra Leone

= About the Virtual Tribunal of the Special Court for Sierra Leone [http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~changmin/] =

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Professor David Cohen, Director of the Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center (WCSC), and Professor Ruzena Bajcsy of the Department of Computer Science are currently partnering on an interdisciplinary project that brings together cutting-edge Berkeley research in computer science, humanities, and human rights. In 2003 the WCSC began monitoring trials at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone [http://www.sc-sl.org/] and providing training seminars for the judges of the Special Court. These projects led to a long-term engagement with the work of the Special Court and in particular to our assistance in exploring ways to support the Court’s efforts to leave an enduring legacy for the people of Sierra Leone. The Virtual Tribunal provides a modular rich media educational tool for preserving the legacy of the Special Court in a way that will enhance the Special Court’s historical, educational, and cultural potential to educate in Sierra Leone and around the world [http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~changmin/Fast_automatic_alignment_video_and_text.pdf] . It brings cutting-edge information technology to bear on what has previously been conceived as a largely archival function of preserving the documentary record of ad hoc courts and tribunals. The Virtual Tribunal will breathe life into the historical record of the Special Court for generations to come through its unique integration of archival materials, videos of the trials, photographs, hundreds of hours of interviews with participants and Sierra Leoneans, expert commentary and analysis, and three-dimensional imagery. The virtual tribunal’s core software, currently being developed under Professor Bajcsy’s direction, makes possible the realization of the project’s goals. It will synchronize the video record of trials with transcripts and make both, together with the full document record of the trial, interviews, and commentary, searchable through “intelligent search” and “computer vision” technologies. In addition, three-dimensional image scanning technology will enable the user to enter into a virtual courtroom, tour its facilities while guided by court officials, and receive an orientation of the courtroom and the function of all the participants. The different modules will be accessible through an interactive and user-friendly interface that will enable the user to easily explore the vast resources of the virtual tribunal’s interlinked databases. In doing so, the virtual tribunal will preserve not only the documentary record of the court, but also the human legacy. It will incorporate a variety of modules, customized for various educational, informational, and research purposes. Modules can be built for training and advocacy, professional education, jurisprudence, scholarly research, and so on. In Sierra Leone and around the world, the virtual tribunal will promote education and professional training, and underscore the value of the rule of law and accountability of governmental leaders. It will also set a new standard of legacy preservation for all other tribunals that have previously considered document preservation the main goal.

The Berkeley Virtual Tribunal and International Justice Database Project

"The Problem"

War crimes and human rights tribunals like the Special Court for Sierra Leone are ad hoc creations with limited life spans. When they complete their work the international participants go home and the physical structures are dismantled or put to other use. All that remains is a paper trail that is accessible only to a small coterie of experts. The Special Court is the first such institution that has taken seriously how it might leave behind something that will be of lasting value for the people in whose name it is pronouncing justice. While other courts speak of their work as promoting reconciliation, understanding, historical truth, and societal reconstruction for countries torn asunder by genocide or bloody internal conflict, most have done little to realize these lofty goals.

The immediate aim of the Virtual Tribunal Project is to assist the legacy preservation of the Special Court by turning its records into a powerful educational tool for Sierra Leonean and international use. The Virtual Tribunal Project is already an official component of the Special Court’s legacy plan. The long term goal is to use the Special Court as a pilot project to create a virtual tribunal framework that can then be applied to other, and much larger, international courts. Currently, we have concluded informal agreements with officials at the two largest and most important international criminal tribunals (for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda) to develop such projects for their institutions.

"What is the Virtual Tribunal?"

The Virtual Tribunal will breathe life into the historical record of the Special Court for generations to come through its unique integration of archival materials, videos of the trials, photographs, hundreds of hours of interviews with participants and Sierra Leoneans, expert commentary and analysis, and three-dimensional imagery. In so doing it will preserve not only the documentary record of the court, but also its human legacy. It will incorporate a variety of modules that draw upon this wealth of material for various educational, informational, and research purposes. In Sierra Leone and around the world, it will promote education and professional training, and underscore the value of the rule of law and accountability of governmental leaders. It will also set a new standard of legacy preservation for all other tribunals that have previously considered document preservation the main goal.

In addition to its international contribution, the Virtual Tribunal will have a lasting impact in Sierra Leone. Because Sierra Leone currently have the resources to allow full public access to the Virtual Tribunal, one part of the project will consist of providing personal computers and internet access to key schools and institutions in the main cities of Sierra Leone. Without such tools the generation of students coming of age in the aftermath of the civil war and the trials will not benefit from the tremendous international expense and effort that have made these trials possible.

The Virtual Tribunal can make these crucial events come alive for these students and for future generations so that they can learn from this foundational experience of accountability, justice, and the rule of law. Beyond the general school population that the Virtual Tribunal may serve, members of the Law Department and the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at Fourah Bay College—Sierra Leone’s first university and considered an intellectual hub in West Africa prior to the war—will also use the project. The War Crimes Studies Center will continue discussions with Mrs. Memonata Pratt, Head of the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at Fourah Bay College, about integrating the virtual tribunal into university and law school curricula. As part of the project, we will ask faculty of UC Berkeley and other universities to sponsor exchanges and instructional programs to enable Sierra Leonean institutions to take full advantage of the Virtual Tribunal’s resources. Through such professional development programs and modest improvements in the IT resources of educational institutions, the Virtual Tribunal project can make a significant contribution to ongoing development efforts in Sierra Leone.

Beyond its immediate impact in Sierra Leone, the Virtual Tribunal will support lawyers, legal academics and students working and studying in the fields of international criminal law and human rights. The Virtual Tribunal will be built with different modules, customized for different audiences and purposes. Modules can be built for training and advocacy, professional education, jurisprudence, scholarly research, and so on.

The content of the Virtual Tribunal can be divided into eight main modules: (i) Background to the Conflict; (ii) Establishment of the Special Court for Sierra Leone; (iii) Structure of the Special Court; (iv) Trials at the Special Court (v) Significance and Impact of the Special Court Trials for Sierra Leone and for the Region; (vi) Jurisprudential Legacy of the Special Court; (vii) “Best Practices” of the Court and Other International and “Hybrid” Tribunals; (viii) Trial Advocacy at the Court.

The virtual tribunal’s core software, currently being developed under Professor Bajcsy’s direction, makes possible the realization of the project’s goals. It will synchronize the video record of trials with transcripts and make both, together with the full document record of the trial, interviews, and commentary, searchable through “intelligent search” and “computer vision” technologies. In addition, three-dimensional image scanning technology will enable the user to enter into a virtual courtroom, tour its facilities while guided by court officials, and receive an orientation of the courtroom and the function of all the participants. The different modules will be accessible through an interactive and user-friendly interface that will enable the user to easily explore the vast resources of the virtual tribunal interlinked databases.

Compared with its better-funded counterparts in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, The Special Court for Sierra Leone is a very small tribunal. However, with individual trials lasting three years or more, the documentary record of the court is vast and a challenge to navigate. The court’s website allows access to transcripts and decisions, but not in a format that is searchable, let alone linked to the massively long trial transcripts. The Virtual Tribunal will thus go far beyond the current capabilities of the Special Court and all other international criminal tribunals in making records easily accessible in a way that links them all together. In providing additional resources in the form of interviews with participants in the trials and with Sierra Leoneans, as well as expert commentary on the aspects of the trials relevant to particular modules, the Virtual Tribunal will provide a new model for the preservation and the dissemination of the work of international justice institutions.

"Further Resources: Archives and Databases"

The successful realization of the Virtual Tribunal project will make UC Berkeley the international focal point for legacy preservation of international war crimes tribunals. The campus has many resources that can further enhance its position as the leading center in this area. As discussed above, the War Crimes Studies Center is compiling the world’s largest collection of WWII war crime trial records. The WCSC has begun work on a database to make these unpublished archival records more accessible to researchers. The Berkeley Human Rights Center, directed by Professor Eric Stover, has two database projects, both in their early phases, connected to international criminal tribunals. Bringing all of these UC Berkeley database projects under the Virtual Tribunal umbrella will only increase the importance of the virtual tribunal as a vital international research tool for all those interested in international justice and human rights issues.

"Implementation"

The virtual tribunal project outlined above is an ambitious project with many successive steps to completion. Developing the Virtual Tribunal for the Special Court for Sierra Leone is a very large project. Applying the Virtual Tribunal framework to the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda will require considerable resources and several million dollars in funding. It also requires the collaboration of experts in computer science and international justice. The key partnership between Professors David Cohen and Ruzena Bajcsy and their students is already well-established. Professor Eric Stover has also indicated interest in joining his two database projects to this larger research framework. Grant proposal combining these three UC Berkeley institutions (War Crimes Studies Center, Computer Science, and Human Rights Center) will be competitive because each is a leader in its respective discipline and field and is represented by equally renowned faculty. There is no other institution that similarly combines such resources.

What is required now is support for developing grant proposal appropriate for a project of this scale. Professors Bajscy and Cohen are currently applying as co-PIs for two other grants that can assist this project in its early phases. The first of these is a pilot-project grant to the Google Foundation, with whom Professor Bajscy has been in intensive contact. The second is an NEH seed money grant for applying technology in the humanities. The Google Foundation grant would enable us to hire programmers to begin the work of writing the software for implementing key components of the Virtual Tribunal. The NEH grant would be applied to the archival component of the project. A Futures grant would enable us to focus our efforts on applying for much larger grants that could fund substantial parts, if not all, of the Virtual Tribunal. These applications would be directed towards IT company foundations such as those at Google, Microsoft, and Hewlett Packard, as well as large foundations that support the work in international justice such as MacArthur, Ford, and Open Society Institute.

Futures grant funds will be used to obtain teaching relief and to fund a graduate student assistant to work on the demonstration model of the Virtual Tribunal, currently in development, and to assist in the process of applying for much larger grants. This proposal is not a resubmission. If awarded a grant, the administrative contact person is Jane Taylorson, MSO of the Department of Rhetoric (642-5162, astobiza@berkeley.edu, 7408 Dwinelle Hall #2670).

External links

* [http://www.sc-sl.org/index.html Official site for the Special Court]
* [http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/sierraleone1105/ Justice in Motion: The Trial Phase of the Special Court for Sierra Leone] , Human Rights Watch, November 2005
* [http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~warcrime/SL-archives.htm Independent Interim Monitoring Reports of the Trials from 9/2004 to 11/2006] ,
* [http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~changmin Virtual Tribunal of the Special Court for Sierra Leone]
* [http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~warcrime/ UC Berkeley War Crimes Study Center] Home Page
* [http://www.guardian.co.uk/sierra/article/0,,824931,00.html Punishment and forgiveness in Sierra Leone] , The Observer, November 3, 2002


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