Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: The Deterrent Effect of International Criminal Tribunals


Published: 4 Nov 2016
Source: Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher

The idea of the deterrence project originated in one of the Academy’s Advisory Council meetings. Justice SONG Sang-Hyun, former President of the International Criminal Court (‘ICC’), proposed that the Academy could conduct a study into whether the ICC has had a deterrent effect. A preliminary literature survey disclosed that no major study had been conducted on this area at this time, and thus the Academy decided to make a contribution to the ongoing academic and policy debates on various aspects related to the impact of the ICC.

Already at the initial stage of the project, it was decided to expand the focus to include prior international criminal tribunals – the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone – to provide a richer analytical frame and broader context for the study, and more useful inferences, conclusions and recommendations for enhancing the ICC’s deterrent effect. Each case study aims to track the deterrent effect of the relevant tribunal or court from its point of entry into a situation
through the convictions/acquittals and appeals stages, where these procedural steps have been achieved. The Academy engaged researchers with in-depth knowledge of the situation country and of the relevant tribunal or
court operating there; most of them originated from the countries involved. During an initial workshop held in Nuremberg in February 2016 the authors and editors adopted a working definition of the term of deterrence
and reached a common understanding of ideas and methodology.

The project on deterrence fits in the Academy’s three-year research plan, and intersects with the Academy’s inaugural research project on acceptance of international criminal justice. As the chapters of this volume show, numerous theoretical and practical linkages between deterrence and acceptance exist. One such linkage is explored through the study’s focus on perceptions held by different sectors of society, which impact on the deterrent effect or the ICC.

The Academy’s study is seminal because of its in-depth nature; other impact studies treat deterrence as one of several aspects of impact, and, consequently, pay it scant attention, although it is a core objective of the ICC. The deterrence project is important to the Academy for various reasons. First, the study involves fieldwork to gather firsthand information on those who have actually experienced (or not) the deterrence effect of international tribunals. These studies aim to showcase the new information collected rather than only survey what is already
known. Second, the study brings together researchers from both legal and other disciplinary backgrounds, who seek to situate their studies within an interdisciplinary context to better understand how deterrence functions in the real world. Third, the study involves researchers who bridge the academic, the practitioners’ and policy-making
world to achieve a holistic approach.

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Programmes: Resolving Displacement, Accountability, Responsibility to Protect
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Type: External Article