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Wikimania 2007 Taipei :: a Globe in Accord

This page is part of the Proceedings of Wikimania 2007 (Index of presentations)

The war crimes and genocide wiki -- issues and obstacles of Wikis for war crimes prosecutors

Authors David Akerson (Denver University College of Law), Nikolay Yanev (Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs)
Track Wikimedia Community
License GNU Free Documentation License (details)
About the authors
David was born in Minnesota and moved to St. Petersburg, Florida at age eight.

In 1984, he obtained a computer science degree from Furman University working on a computer the size of a small city. He saw no future in computers, and astutely went to law school instead. His roomate went on to work for Apple, Microsoft and Amazon.com and now owns North Carolina. David, meanwhile, slept through administrative and property law classes. As he made his way through law school, he went through an existential crisis in 1986. Seeking truth in 1987, freshly graduated, he ventured to Washington, D.C. to work on the Paul Simon for President Campaign in 1987. There, he found work as Deputy Campaign Counsel and was responsible for Federal Election Commission election law and analysis, FEC compliance and submissions. While he didn't find "truth," Senator Simon was involved in the South African anti-apartheid movement which led David to his first human rights job with Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) in Pretoria, South Africa. At LHR, he investigated unthinkable allegations of human rights violations committed by the South African government. This changed his life.

When David returned to the United States, he sought to replicate his experience in South Africa. Miami, Florida seemed like a good bet. He went to work as a public defender in the Dade County Public Defender's Office. After defending poor people for ten years or so, he yearned to go back to Africa.

He applied for a trial attorney position with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and was offered the position of Chief of Information and Evidence. The United Nations was impressed with the fact he had both law and computer degrees. He tried to tell the United Nations that his computer degree, now 15 years old, was slightly out of date, but they hired him anyway.

And so, from 1999-2000, he was the Chief of the Information and Evidence Section at United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Office of the Prosecutor, Kigali, Rwanda and Arusha, Tanzania. The Tribunal prosecuted the genocide in Rwanda with a staff of over 300 employees. He directly managed an international staff of twelve persons. He was responsible for the development of systems to facilitate, support and integrate the work of the legal and investigative teams of the Office of the Prosecutor. He was responsible for the receipt, organization and custody of the results of over five years of intensive field investigation of the genocide. He supervised the collection of over 400,000 documents, audio and videotapes, photographs, forensic material and physical artifacts. He conceived and supervised the creation of a digital evidence archive.

From 2001-2006, he was an international war crimes prosecutor and technology advisor to the Chief of Prosecutions at the Yugoslavia Tribunal. At the Yugoslavia Tribunal, he worked in both a legal and technology capacity. He acted as senior attorney in Prosecutor v. Dragomir Milosevic and lead attorney of a special prosecutions unit responsible for prosecuting miscellaneous matters such as contempt of court violations. He supervised five lawyers, three investigative staff, two military analysts and a case manager in all aspects of case analysis and preparation. In addition, he served as the Office of the Prosecutor project coordinator of trial technology reporting to the Chief of Prosecutions. He was responsible for assessing existing trial practices and workflows of an office with over 300 attorneys, investigators and support staff, and for formulating and executing a business plan to improve overall efficiency through greater automation of the work environment. He supervised the implementation of the project plan and monitored the delivery of new technologies into the existing work processes of ten investigation teams, thirty-one trial teams, and three courtrooms. He reported to senior management on a weekly basis. He regularly consulted with attorneys, investigators, information technology staff, and general support staff and incorporated their feedback into project protocols. During this time, as an ancillary function of my job, he advised and trained prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges from the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the Adhoc Human Rights Court of Centre Jakarta, the Special Department for War Crimes of the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Iraqi Special Tribunal, and others in case management, evidence management and legal technology.

After six years living abroad, his wife and two daughters revolted and demanded a respite from the ex-pat life. David and his family moved back to their home in Denver, Colorado where he launched a war crimes clininc project at Denver University (http://www.westword.com/2007-06-14/news/rwanda-deliverance/). He also started Wiki for war crimes legal analysis (http://ihl.viawiki.com).

David now fancies himself a lawyer, computer scientist, beekeeper, runner and avid reader of non-fiction. He really wants to be a farmer like his Swedish forebearers, and to prove it this Spring he plowed his yard under to plant crops and grow his own food. He learned the hard way that his two dogs dig up everything he plants.

He is married to Katie Reinisch and has two daughters, Joie and Marlee, aged twelve and ten.
Presenters/Nikolay Yanev/Biography
In the early 1990s, the international community began to prosecute war criminals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia -- for the first time enforcing the treaties against genocide and crimes against humanity. The new tribunals had many challenges, not the least of which was finding a way for prosecutors (and possibly defence attorneys and judges) to share knowledge. In October of 2006, two former employees of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia created the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Wiki. The IHL Wiki offered a practical solution to this problem. The lecture discusses how the IHL Wiki's strategy has been to approach an international audience of prosecutors, defence attorneys and judges who come from different cultures and legal systems.

The IHL Wiki Project was designed to create an editable, on-line repository for IHL practitioners and academics around the world to share and synergize their knowledge and experience in the new field of genocide and war crimes prosecutions. IHL is an emerging and fascinating area of law, and each week new decisions are issued and new developments occur(such as the recent naming of Sudanese suspects for the genocide in Darfur) that are discussed in various venues but not effectively preserved. The IHL Wiki aims to change that, and it will ultimately summarize and analyze every decision issued by any International Tribunal and provides a facility for IHL users to augment this analysis with their comments. This high-level dialogue on critical legal issues is thus preserved and available for others to benefit from.

Despite the amazing opportunities and potential of the IHL Wiki, there have been several obstacles to overcome in getting a legal community, much less an international legal community, to embrace the concept of a Wiki and to move away of "credentials-based" systems the legal community tends to favor.

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