New Publication – War Crimes Units: Legislative, Organisational and Technical Lessons

Published 6 October 2021

Photo: Shuttershock

'War Crimes Units: Legislative, Organisational and Technical Lessons', a new report written by Karolina Aksamitowska for the T.M.C. Asser Instituut/Global Rights Compliance MATRA-Ukraine project, provides an overview of best practices drawn from domestic war crimes units for the investigation and prosecution of international crimes.  

In recent years, European states such as Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands have been at the forefront of the domestic investigation and prosecution of international crimes, such as those committed in Syria. Owing to the unique nature of these crimes, several states have created specialised ‘war crimes units’ - for example, within prosecution and immigration services as well as judiciaries - to ensure suspects are identified and prosecutions are carried out effectively and fairly.

Drawing on extensive desk research and the insights of practitioners, academics, and the civil society working on these issues, the report 'War Crimes Units: Legislative, Organisational and Technical Lessons' identifies multiple best practices and lessons learned from various domestic war crimes units operating in Europe. In addition to highlighting best practices relating to the creation and structure of war crimes units, the report also addresses issues relevant to all stages of a war crimes case, from investigation to prosecution. Examples include the need to ensure domestic legislation allows for the use of digital open-source evidence within trials, the benefits of having strong procedural protections for victims and witnesses, and the advantages of cooperating with other countries and institutions during domestic investigations.

The overarching aim of the report, as part of the MATRA project 'Strengthening Ukraine’s Capacity to Investigate and Prosecute International Crimes', is to act as a best practice resource for Ukrainian authorities who have recently established their own War Crimes Unit within the Office of the Prosecutor General. Nevertheless, owing to its relevant assessment of the domestic investigation and prosecution of war crimes and international crimes more broadly, the report is also highly relevant to other situations.

Read the full report (in English). A Ukrainian language version will be published shortly.

About the author
Karolina Aksamitowska is a doctoral researcher in law at the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law, Swansea University. She has published on a variety of international criminal and humanitarian law topics, including in the Journal of International Criminal Justice, Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies, Annotated Leading Cases of International Criminal Tribunals (ALC), Oxford Reports on International Law, the Opinio Juris blog and several edited collections.