Model International Criminal Court


place/state: Berlin
INSTITUTION: Kreisau-Initiative Berlin e.V.
Authors: Franziska Mandel/ Christian Geissler-Jagodzinski
age group: 16 years and older
Country/ Countries: Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Bulgaria
subject: Crosscurricular study group, History, Political education

learning activities
Producing a film
Interactive problem solving
Linking past and present
Intercultural Learning

End of the war
Nuremberg trials

A pilot project in Kreisau/Krzyzowa (Poland) brings together young people to have a closer look into the issues of human right violations, genocide and crimes of war, using the method of simulating court proceedings according to the statutes of the Den Hague International Criminal Court. International teams of students from Germany, Poland and an annually alternating third European country develop pleadings and judgements from original court transcripts and take over the roles of prosecutors, defence counsels and judges. A team of student-journalists simulates the role of the media.

Project goals

The project aims at sensitising the students for the protection and inalienability of human rights and familiarising them with the instrument of international criminal law and its institutions as a tool for the protection of human rights and the sanctioning of human rights violations in war situations. It wants to impart basic knowledge about procedures in accordance with the rule of law and to explain the intricacies and difficulties of legal argumentation and judgement. On the one hand, the participants come to their own position or judgement depending on their role and the circumstances of the case, thus developing their ability to argue for their point of view publicly and effectively. On the other hand, they have to deal with opposing positions, weigh evidence and formulate judgements within the given legal framework. Participating in this simulation therefore also includes an examination of the possible tensions between the sense of justice and the principles jurisdiction.

The project also aims at motivating the students to deal with National Socialism in an unfamiliar context that allows them to look into the motivations and justifications of the perpetrators. Therefore each simulation includes at least one case from the court transcripts of the Nuremberg Trials and the subsequent trials.


Simulation was chosen for the project as a suitable method of non-school civic education. Young people like the challenge of assuming real-life situations and roles. They acquire cognitive and procedural competences on their own initiative and with a diligence that is not easily reached in the "normal" teaching-learning process, because the matter is very abstract and has little connection to everyday life. The simulation combines cognitive knowledge about the (legal) frame of action, content questions (the crimes in their specific historical context and their punishment by the law) and the decision-finding process (within the simulated trial) with self-reflection through one's own action. Furthermore, it is a group-centred method with all the positive effects of learning in a social group as compared to individual learning.

Project description


The pilot project for the Model International Criminal Court took place in Krzyzowa/ Kreisau (Poland) from 7 to 11 December 2005. In July of the same year, there had been a first preparatory meeting of a few students and teachers from the participating countries with organisers, and educational and legal advisers to jointly determine the structure and the programme of the simulation. It was agreed that the roles to be simulated would include those of prosecutors, defending counsels and judges and that the roles of witnesses and defendants in the trials were to be left aside. The sequence of events and the cases to be tried were also agreed upon. Care was taken to select cases where the responsibility of the defendant was difficult to determine from the point of view of an international criminal court.

The teachers were assigned the task of selecting suitable participants and providing pedagogical supervision in the countries involved before the simulation started in Kreisau.

In the following months, the documents of the trials (witnesses' accounts, evidence) were compiled and adapted to the students' capacities. An official guide with procedures, rules and instructions for the formulation of pleadings was developed with the support of the legal advisors.

Role model: International Criminal Court

The framework was "borrowed" from the real International Criminal Court, but its complexity was reduced to a set of basic rules that students can easily cope with. The trial was cut down to the basic elements of prosecution, defence, questioning of both parties by the court, judgement and justification, and the amount of documents and evidence to be permitted was strictly limited. At the same time, a team of journalists was formed and assigned the task to accompany the project by two issues of a newspaper, a film and a press conference.

The students assuming the roles of prosecutor and defence counsel produced position papers on their course of argumentation. These papers served as the basis for the judges' preliminary decisions. The teachers did not provide any support with respect to content, but helped the students to organise their journey.

MICC 2007

The MICC School Seminar from 13 – 18 April 2007 was already the third of its kind; its results are also exemplarily documented here. Changes due to the experiences from previous events could already be implemented in 2007. This included an additional preparatory day on the topic of human rights and humanitarian international criminal law, including also interactive games to get to know each other and to optimise the co-operation in groups with participants from different countries.

The role of the supervising teachers

The teachers had no official function in the performance of the simulation. However, they participated in interim pedagogical assessments and short-term decision finding processes and provided individual counselling for their students.

The seminar MICC 2007 provided a special workshop of one and a half days for the teachers on human rights education, including a number of practical exercises. The workshop was based on the "Compass", a guideline published by the Council of Europe.

Project execution

Prior to the trial simulation, there was one day of rhetoric and legal training for the group of prosecutors, defence councils and judges, each supported by a legal and a rhetoric adviser. Some groups worked far into the night to optimise their juristic strategies and presentations, using video recordings in the same way it had already been done in the 2005 seminar. There was a downright competition between persecutors and defence counsels. It was remarkable to what extent and how fast the teams put the recommendations of the trainers into practice. Formal dress was required in order to stress the formal character of the trials and increase the similarity to a real Court of Justice; the judges had to wear robes. There were formal court ushers and fixed rules for the proceedings: pleading of the persecution, pleading of the defence counsel, interrogation by the judges, final speeches of both parties, and judgement. All teams were tri-national, for example a prosecution team would consist of a Polish, a German and a Bulgarian or Czech student.

During the trials there was an incredible improvement of the performance due to the training. A further improvement was reached by detailed evaluations directly following each trial, whose "lessons to be learned" were immediately implemented by the following teams. Participants who, according to their teachers' assessment, were usually rather reserved, now surpassed themselves. The pleadings were characterised by rhetoric and legal refinement as well as by political and historical expertise. The judges fulfilled their duty and asked precisely the right questions that enabled them to reach a just decision. Through the simulation and its evaluation, and especially through the press coverage by the journalist team, all participants understood the difference between the moral condemnation of a crime and its difficult and complex legal prosecution or punishment. The ambiguity of sentencing a person according to his or her individual criminal responsibility was also addressed.

Even the trainers with their wide range of experience found it remarkable how exciting it had been to learn about the individual cases and their historical background but also about fundamental principles of legal proceedings in accordance with the rule of law. At the end of the event there were prizes for the best defence counsel, prosecutor and judge and for the best team. The very wide-ranging accompanying programme during the MICC 2005 School Seminar included a report by Prof Anastase Shyaka, a specialist on conflict research from the State University of Rwanda, about the development of the conflict in Rwanda and the work of the "International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda" (ICTR). Furthermore, there was a guided tour of the Kreisau Memorial and a longer interview with a contemporary witness, a Jewish-Polish former forced labourer. This coincided well with one of the simulated cases which also dealt with the issue of forced labour. Finally, the role of the international community in conflict situation was addressed through the movie "No Man's Land".

The 2007 MICC School Seminar showed that the introduction of an extra preparation day, especially the interactive exercises on human rights to get to know each other better and to improve the group working capacities, had been entirely positive and absolutely necessary for a successful learning process. The content and the form of presentation of the introductory speech on the history of human rights and humanitarian law by project director Andreea Pavel (instead of by an academic expert from outside) was especially appropriate to the educational intentions of the project, and above all to the expectations of the students. In 2007, an eye witness of the Bosnia war and the siege of Sarajevo spoke about everyday life under the conditions of war. The role of the international community in conflict situations was addressed by the documentary "Shake Hands With the Devil", featuring the former commander of the UN forces in Rwanda, Romeo A. Dallaire, who speaks about the genocide of 1994.

Evaluation / Lessons Learned / Questions

The simulations are evaluated by a questionnaire that is sent out by e-mail after the event. Responses are positive to euphoric, whereby students' feedback in 2005 was mainly referring to the acquisition of rhetoric skills. This feedback led to changes in the organisation of successive simulations.

Following the first seminar, more time was allocated to content evaluation. For instance, the most terrible crimes against human rights have to be related to human rights violations in the everyday life of the students without, however, putting them flatly on the same level. Furthermore, the specific historical conditions of the crimes whose legal prosecution is simulated in MICC must receive closer attention.

Having conducted the seminar for the third time, we can now provide a positive answer to the question that we left open in the beginning: Simulation as a method that is greatly dependent on a high level of participants' activities is suitable to achieve a sensitisation and thorough examination of crimes against humanity and their legal prosecution. The high degree of student activity does not prevent an intensive examination of the human rights topic. The project can rightfully claim to provide a sustainable motivation for discussing these questions and, moreover, provide the students with a high-level understanding of procedural structures of international jurisdiction.