01 September 2007

Simple yet sobering call for international justice

This past week, current and former prosecutors from current and past war crimes tribunals gathered in Chautauqua, New York to discuss the history and future of international humanitarian law, sometimes referred to as the laws of war. In their declaration, the prosecutors -- two of whom had served at Nuremberg -- made it plain that now that the body of international law has become more sophisticated over the past 100 years, there is now no excuse for allowing war criminals to escape justice. They argue that because justice for such crimes is now enshrined in law, there is no room for political decisions regarding whether or not someone accused should stand trial, instead these laws are quite clear that these individuals must stand trial.

The irony here, of course, is that this meeting was held in the United States, and that two of the most vocal proponents of the enforcement of international law were the two former Nuremberg prosecutors, both of whom are American. Indeed, since the United States called for the founding of the Nuremberg Tribunals in the late 1940s, the U.S., especially under the leadership of the Bush administration, has backed off on its support of international justice, as most recently demonstrated by the refusal to submit the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to the Senate for ratification. However, many, including some of the military officials ostensibly being "protected" by ICC non-participation, have already stated that the United States has little to lose from being a full participant in international criminal law mechanisms.

While I am generally supportive of international justice mechanisms, I should also point out that there can be an incongruence between international and local demands/requirements for justice following a conflict. The ICTR prosecutor notes these in the Post article above. There is a need to be cautious in using an overly prescriptive reading of international criminal law that we then apply to all cases. Instead, we should take local concerns (eg, type of justice sought, level of retribution desired, fears of further destabilization as a result of prosecutions) into account while seeking to also fulfill our obligations under the law. This, however, often creates a paradoxical terrain for decision-making that is where the tensions between human rights oriented folks and conflict resolution oriented folks (like me) most play out.

I leave you with the final two clauses of the declaration's preamble, which illustrate this paradox quite nicely (though they also fall pretty squarely on the human rights end of things), and certainly more eloquently than I can:
Recognizing that both truth and justice create sustainable peace;

Highlighting that justice is not an impediment to peace, but is in fact its most certain guarantor.
For more information about the prosecutors' meeting, go here.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

The ICC statute *does* give at least some nod to the issue of respecting local concerns that you highlight. The ICC, unlike the ICTR/Y, has only secondary jurisdiction - basically, it can only try someone if one of the states with more traditional jurisdiction (territorial, or personal to the perpetrator or victim) can't or won't hold a proper trial. One concern that's been raised by some is that the ICC itself basically gets to decide whether or not something was a "proper" trial... and that can lead to potential clashes (like the arguments over whether or not Uganda could give the LRA amnesty in return for negotiating).