The Reach and the Grasp of International Criminal Justice - How Do We Lengthen the Arm of the Law?

By Rapp, Stephen J. | Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview
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The Reach and the Grasp of International Criminal Justice - How Do We Lengthen the Arm of the Law?


Rapp, Stephen J., Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


Thank you very much, Dean Lawrence Mitchell and Professor Michael Scharf, and thank you to Case Western and the Cox Center for International Justice and Law. It is a great honor for me to be here and to be receiving this award from the Cox Center because of all that it does to advance international criminal justice in the world today and to train the leaders who will advance it and bring it to greater success in the future. This is brought home to me, every couple of weeks, when I open my e-mail and I see the War Crimes Prosecution Watch (1) which is published by the Cox Center and the Public Interest Law and Policy Group. Just in the last issue, there were reports on prosecutions in thirty countries around the world in which there have been violations past and present.

As Dean Mitchell said, we only have to look at the newspaper at the developments in Syria today where we have seen thousands of innocent civilians killed by bombardment. I was on the borders of Syria last week, and we are now receiving reports of even worse crimes--men, women, and children being slaughtered, hacked to death with knives in villages around Horns and Daraya. The level of atrocities, if anything, is increasing. (2) We see developments in South Kordofan and Blue Nile that frankly do not receive enough press attention, other than when George Clooney was arrested last week in a demonstration at the Sudan embassy, but horrendous atrocities are being committed against the people in the Nubian Mountains. (3)

Those who follow the news of international diplomacy see how these issues are playing out at the highest levels. Many of you saw the news on Saturday of the arrest in Mauritania of Abdullah al-Senussi, the for Iner head of Libyan Security. (4) Now the question has arisen, will he go to the International Criminal Court (ICC) pursuant to the arrest warrant issued by the ICC last June? Will he go to France, which has tried him in absentia, (5) but under the European Convention would have to try him again for the murder of 170 people in that UTA Air flight that exploded over Niger in 1989? (6) Does he go to Libya where he committed atrocities against his own people over the course of thirty years? Will American law enforcement have an opportunity to talk to him about the bombing of Pan Am 103 and other acts?

Everywhere we see the reach of international justice. But at the same time, there are doubts as to whether it has the grasp to accomplish the goals that it has set for itself: of having an effective system of accountability for the worst crimes known to humankind; a system that offers the prospect that the victims of past crimes can receive justice in courts now; a system that is strong enough to deter those crimes from occurring in the future and to prevent others from becoming victims. Certainly in these last twelve months, we have seen examples of where there has been that grasp, where there have been successful results. Most notably with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), established now eighteen years ago, (7) at a time when the world had relatively low expectations, having watched as nothing effective had been done to prevent atrocities in the Balkans. There was not the will to send in effective peacekeepers or civilian protection forces, but instead the decision was made to send in lawyers and judges and establish a tribunal. Initially, there was little hope that it would ever charge and arrest people at a high level. Now after having seen President Slobodan Milosevic brought to justice in 2001, we have seen in the last year the arrest of the last two fugitives, General Ratko Mladic, who was the military leader at Srebrenica, where the genocide of eight thousand men and boys was committed in 1995, (8) and Goran Hadzic, alleged to bear responsibility for atrocities against Croatians including the hundreds taken from Vukovar Hospital and killed in 1991. (9)

A hundred and sixty-one people were charged by the ICTY.

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