It took the Belgian courts six years from the end of the First World War to organize an impressive series of in absentia trials in 1924-25, a decade after the German invasion of Belgium. The successive steps preceding these trials were subject to an intense diplomatic and media coverage (Clappaert 2014). It was indeed a period of experiencing concurrent jurisdictions (a failed international court, the Leipzig trials, the French and Belgian national cases), dealing with extradition issues and gathering testimonies on the violation of the laws and customs of war against civilians. Belgian political and judicial authorities thus mobilized individual actors (victims, eyewitnesses) and institutional actors (magistrates, local authorities) in order to identify and prosecute German coupables de guerre.
This paper addresses the transnational character of post-WWI trials, analysing the attempts to confront multiple documentary sources on the crimes committed and to initiate legal and judicial information exchanges between France, Great Britain, Belgium and Germany (Lewis 2014). How were the “atrocities” (Horne and Kramer 2001) "represented" and qualified by Tribunals ten years after the facts? In 1921, Great Britain, France and Belgium sent observers in Leipzig to report on the trials before the Supreme Court and the cases led to an intense media and political coverage. But in the 1924-25 Belgian trials, the defendants were absent. In this case, the trial was just a stage in which to produce a peculiar truth in the midst of a very public and on-going controversy.
Building on an analysis of trial records, diplomatic archives and press clippings, the paper seeks to compare the process of publicization of these cases, taking into account their specific setup, their audience and visibility and reflecting on whether they can be considered a pioneering precedent in making post-war justice visible.
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