Skip to content Skip to navigation

Stanford launches digital library to preserve & broaden access to war crime documents


The facade of the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, a court established to try the most senior responsible members of the Khmer Rouge for alleged violations of international law and serious crimes perpetrated during the Cambodian genocide. Plans are underway to incorporate materials from the court's proceedings into the Virtual Tribunal. (Photo credit: Kurt Hickman)

Aug 29 2018

Posted In:

Announcements, Research

A new online Virtual Tribunals resource developed by Stanford Libraries in collaboration with the WSD HANDA Center for Human Rights and International Justice has launched, making records from 105 cases investigated by the Special Panel for Serious Crimes (SPSC) in East Timor widely accessible.

The SPSC East Timor collection includes final judgments from 55 cases that reached verdict on charges such as murder, rape, and crimes against humanity, all of which have been rendered searchable and assigned a persistent URL in order to remain always accessible despite an ever-changing Web environment. 

Plans are underway to expand the Virtual Tribunals site and incorporate additional collections of international criminal trial records from World War II, as well as post-conflict justice proceedings in Cambodia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, and others.

“Ensuring public access to the records of international criminal proceedings that deal with mass atrocity is vital both for purposes of accountability, but also for learning from the past and developing policy-oriented research for future international justice undertakings,” said David Cohen, the WSD Handa Professor in Human Rights and International Justice at Stanford.  

Cohen’s involvement in war crimes tribunals began in the mid-1990’s with a project to collect the records of the national war crimes programs conducted in approximately 20 countries in Europe and Asia after WWII. It was his work with transitional justice initiatives and tribunal monitoring programs that resulted in preserving the entire SPSC-East Timor collection.  

“Despite the investments made in the contemporary tribunals, resources devoted to making the totality of these massive collections readily available are lacking or in many cases the IT infrastructure nonexistent,” said Cohen, who experienced the challenge of accessing materials conducting his own research.  

In partnership with Stanford Libraries, which has developed an integrated digital discovery environment for the project and manages the trial records in the Stanford Digital Repository, Cohen works closely with global entities and public policy organizations to serve as a support in making their documents more easily accessible, turning the documents into educational and research tools for both domestic and international audiences.  

“In serving as a digital resource for stewards of these historically valuable legal records in the countries of origin, we also make accessible worldwide these collections for study and reflection by future generations and for those seeking accountability for past injustices,” said Michael Keller, university librarian at Stanford and collaborator with Cohen on the Virtual Tribunal Initiative.

Read the full story via the Stanford Libraries.