Ottawa was in at the birth of the International Criminal Court, and Canadian Philippe Kirsch was the court’s first president. Renowned jurist Louise Arbour was the chief prosecutor of the tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and McGill University law professor Payam Akhavan was the first legal advisor to the prosecutor’s Office for the tribunals.
Now there’s a new Canadian in town.
Toronto lawyer James Stewart is taking his place as the newly-elected deputy prosecutor of the ICC, assisting Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in a new slate of cases that includes some of the world’s worst war crimes. He’s no stranger to the scene, having done two terms for the Rwanda tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, as a senior trial attorney, and one for the Yugoslavia tribunal as chief of prosecutions. Both featured horrifying testimonies of survivors of genocide, torture, murder and rape.
The volatile cases awaiting Stewart include that of Kenya’s president-elect Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, accused of orchestrating attacks on members of ethnic groups who were suspected political opponents of President Mwai Kibaki in the 2007 election.
The court also opened an investigation into possible crimes committed in northern Mali during the recent rebellion.
Meanwhile the ICC is deliberating on whether Saif al Islam Gaddhafi - son of late dictator Moammar – should be tried at The Hague or in Libya for war crimes. And the court is a focus of controversy over a possible Palestinian attempt to press for war crimes charges against Israel. Although reports of atrocities are mounting in Syria, a UN Security Council deadlock is blocking an ICC investigation.
Stewart, an unassuming Montreal-born lawyer, is prepared for whatever might come in the next nine years of his term.
Dealing with Rwandans who had experienced unimaginable abuses moved him deeply, but did not discourage him. “There is no way not to be affected by the people you are dealing with, particularly at the trial level,” he told the Canadian Lawyer Magazine. “I am sure it has altered my view of the world and affected me in many ways I probably don’t even realize.”
Olivia Ward has covered international courts at The Hague as well as conflicts, politics and human rights as correspondent and bureau chief from the former Soviet Union to the Balkans, Northern Ireland, the Middle East and South Asia. She has won both national and international awards.