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The Trial-Monitoring Programme of the International Research and Documentation Centre for War Crimes Trials

Academic - Independent - Competent

While monitoring has been common in international and mixed national-international courts for many years, such observation of criminal trials was up to now widely unknown in Germany. The concept can be best translated into German as ‘Verfahrensbeobachtung‘ (trial observation).

With the opening of the trial for genocide against the Rwandan O.R. at the Higher Regional Court (OLG) in Frankfurt, the idea arose for the first time to make such a trial with an international connection, which was also take place on our doorstep, so to speak, the subject of a trial observation.

The Marburg approach can be summarized in three key words.


Trial monitoring is open to any result, observing objective and transparent academic standards and pursuing different purposes. Above all, protecting the legality of the trial and in particular the rights of the defendant, the rights of witnesses or victims and the position and effect of a co-plaintiff in the trial is paramount to successful monitoring. Monitoring itself can serve the observance of Fair Trial Standards or promote legitimacy of the trial by documentation. These primary purposes can be complemented by other aspects, such as answering questions related to the specific case with regard to applying adjective law or introducing students of jurisprudence to judicial practice.

The immediate result of monitoring is the generation of reports on account of extensive and detailed notes, illustrating the trial completely. These reports cover information about the procedure of the trial, the legal problems discussed during the trial, the treatment of participants by the court as well as organization, realization and term of the trial. These reports can be published at the end of a trial, anonymously if necessary, and serve as a basis of detailed analysis – whether by members of the monitoring project or by third parties. The objectives of such an analysis are of varied nature, with the material and formal right as well as its practical application being checked against suitability, efficiency or compatibility with national or internationally standards of human rights. They may also serve as sources of historic or sociological research.


The independence of the trial monitors is of prime importance. The work of the project group is objective and impartial, without supporting any of the trial participants. On no account may the monitors interfere with the ongoing trial, neither inside nor outside the court. That is why everything published during the time of the trial is always checked against whether and how it could possibly affect the trial. The same applies to contacts with participants of the trial, here as well, maintaining an objective and impartial position is always mandatory. ICWC monitors may also be asked by third parties to monitor a trial, but here as well, independence is a prime directive. Hence, monitoring which already intends a certain result is not applicable.


Competent monitors are vital for the success of a monitoring program. Though there are different modes and possibilities to realize monitoring, evaluation of the first application of a monitor sent by the ICWC to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia has shown that to successfully observe a penal trial, certain abilities are required which are mandatory for every monitoring. The monitor has to know and apply the scientific basic principles of monitoring and also have a profound understanding of the historical circumstances which led to the conflict that is now the object of the trial. A monitor must be an expert in the relevant material and adjective law to be able to understand the events in court. Therefore, readers specific to the trial were provided for the preparation of student monitors, together with specific workshops concerning Principles of monitoring, Background of the conflict, Implementation of Fair Trial Standards in the StPO [German Code of Criminal Procedure].

This approach was further developed over time and expanded and adapted through further practical experience. In addition, the students interested in the project have carried out a training monitoring at the regional court of Marburg before starting to monitor. Every participant was tasked with writing their own monitoring report which was assessed in the aftermath.

Beside these preparatory measures, monthly meetings of the project group take place, so that the monitors may update each other about the trials and examine current questions raised, both for the monitors and for other interested persons. Each team consists of students of jurisprudence as well as of peace and conflict studies and other courses of studies leading to more a comprehensive and holistic understanding during the meetings after the trial days.

As a result, it was possible to create a permanent training structure that enables us to train specially prepared trial observers who can be deployed internationally.

In addition to the courses offered in criminal law, criminal procedure law, adjective law and international criminal law, the regular guest lectures and especially the excursion to the The Hague in 2019 to the International Criminal Court (ICC) form the basis for a qualified and lasting education.