International conference at York discusses genocide

York will be the scene for a major international conference to examine ways of ending impunity for the perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Some of the leading proponents of civil society will gather at York’s Keele Campus on Thursday, Dec. 4 to Saturday, Dec. 6, to attend “Searching for Justice: Comprehensive Action in the Face of Atrocities”.

The conference will bring together scholars, heads of NGOs, human rights activists and parliamentarians to discuss issues relating to accountability trials, truth commissions, reparations and institutional reform.

Participants have been invited from every region of the world, from such countries as Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi, South Africa, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Peru, Slovenia, Afghanistan and Lebanon, as well as from Canada and the United States.

“York University is bringing together some of the leading international experts to compare the experiences and remedies invoked in different countries that have experienced or responded to atrocities,” said conference organizer and York alumna (LLM ’99), Professor Sharryn Aiken (left), of York’s Centre for Refugee Studies and the Faculty of Law, Queen’s University.

“Our aim is to develop mechanisms and principles to achieve a more comprehensive system of justice for perpetrators as well as victims of atrocity.”

The conference will be launched on Dec. 4 with a special panel considering Canadian and international approaches to redressing massive human rights violations.

On Dec. 5, the conference will continue with a series of panel presentations examining and evaluating the various responses to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity employed throughout the world, with leading practitioners, policy makers and scholars. Practical consideration of why a certain process was chosen, whether others were considered, how successful the chosen process has been and which elements were effective or not, will be an important dimension of these presentations.

Panels are:

  • Accountability Trials: an overview of various types of trials including international courts and tribunals, universal jurisdiction trials, as well as domestic criminal and civil trials including immigration remedies;
  • Truth Commissions and other truth-seeking mechanisms: an overview of the various mechanisms and their effectiveness;
  • Reparations: a discussion on reparations of a rehabilitative, symbolic, restorative and compensatory nature;
  • Institutional Reform: an examination of issues such as establishing new institutions to achieve accountability, passing legal and constitutional reforms to prevent human rights violations, vetting abusers from public institutions, and implementing human rights training programs for law enforcement officials;
  • Making Transitional Justice Strategies More Effective: a discussion of the inter-connections between the four themes of accountability, engaging critical issues and challenges addressed in previous panels.

The conference will culminate in a report to be drafted on Dec. 6, focusing on the key lessons learned in the field of transitional justice, the gaps in available research as well as the possibilities for further networking and coordinated follow up.

The conference is open to the public on Dec. 4 and 5, but to invited participants and media only on Dec. 6.

For more information including registration, the agenda and conference papers, visit: For Netscape users, version 7.1 and higher is recommended.

The conference is sponsored by the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies and the Government of Canada.