Global court, local languages: how the International Criminal Court pursues multilingual justice

Leigh's keynote remarks, based upon personal research, will explore the language challenges faced by one of the most important and controversial institutions of the early 21st century, the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

Whether or not one agrees with its mandate or current prosecutorial strategies, the ICC is charged with completing the various criminal processes currently underway, which together bring into play more than 30 languages. A number of these are so-called "languages of lesser diffusion," whose integration into courtroom proceedings, outreach activities, and victims' participation programmes has required innovative strategies in recruitment and training of interpreters and in development of legal lexicons. 

Underlying the Court's linguistic work is Article 67(1) of its own Statute, which articulates that accused persons must be informed of charges against them and be able to follow their own trials in a language they "fully understand and speak." Furthermore, in order that persons impacted by crimes may "understand, participate in, and have a sense of ownership in the justice process", the ICC must also linguistically accommodate witnesses, victims, and members of affected communities. 

Leigh's remarks will point to the important role played by the ICC not only in demonstrating the capacity of local languages to communicate complex and critical notions in international law and procedure, but also in giving voice to victims of conflict who have never before been afforded a global platform for their views and experiences. Pursuing justice in multiple languages may be complex and costly, but without this accommodation, global justice may well remain meaningless to those who require it most.

Leigh oversees the Brandeis Institute for International Judges, Ad Hoc Tribunals Oral History Project. She is the co-author of The International Judge: An Introduction to the Men and Women Who Decide the World’s Cases (2007). Her academic work and publications have focused on the challenges of language and cultural diversity in international criminal courts and tribunals; language use in post-colonial Africa; and African immigration and refugee resettlement in the United States.

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