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What's International Law got to do with it?
So, in dealing with the International Criminal Courts here, I'm often reminded of this Eddie Izzard Sketch

The International tribunals deal with "those most responsible" for international crimes of war, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The idea is that allowing atrocities to go unpunished sets up new regimes for failure, especially in those cases where the atrocities were committed by the government. The idea is that the general populace will be able to find some closure and feel like justice is possible, and therefore be more inclined to support an effective rule of law.

So much for the philosophy. In Actual Practice, I wonder what it actually does accomplish. These tribunals are massively expensive. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has cost something like 3 billion Euros in its 3 years of existence thus far, was founded to deal with a single terrorist act, and has yet to get a trial as far as a public indictment. The Khmer Rouge is still being tried, 45 years later, in a highly politicized tribunal, run by former Khmer Rouge members (and a few International judges). The maximum sentence for genocide in any tribunal is 30 years, and every country in which the convict serves time has a general policy of release after 2/3 or 1/2 time served. The accused can spend that entire time in appeals.

This is what they get for genocide.

In the countries where they committed these atrocities, people can face life sentences in a broken down system that forgets their appeals, never checks on prison conditions, and relies on false testimony and no evidence to convict for minor crimes. If they kill one person, in the more polite societies, they are imprisoned for life. In the less polite societies, they are either welcomed into a gang or killed by the victim's gang.

Justice at home looks very little like international justice. Who, in a remote village in the former Yugoslavia, will hear or care about a court in the Netherlands. The men being tried internationally very rarely pulled the trigger. Their victims do not know their faces as those of their attackers, and feel that they were wronged by the person who actually shot them. The people who actually killed, raped and mutilated the populace are often granted amnesty in the interests of promoting peace.

If the victims were aware of the consequences faced by those most responsible, would it look like anything more than a mere mockery of justice? When they face 20 years in a rat-infested prison for stealing a loaf of bread, how is a spirit of justice encouraged by an international community that gives less than 1/3 month in sentence for each person killed. No wonder the communities damaged by these people often welcome them back as patriots, as they did Biljana Plavsic. How else can they cope with being so clearly slapped by the international community with this condescending treatment of the wrongs they've suffered?

As a mechanism of justice, I think the international tribunal system has a long road to travel before it reaches anything I would be comfortable calling success. However, as a tool for encouraging human rights, I think it has a lot of potential.

The tribunals are a statement that the international community cares about human rights, and is willing to take the slow and painful steps to get its ponderous weight behind them. Human Rights law is still growing, international criminal law is one of the more solidified forms of international law (we're staying out of business agreements, for now). When looking to enforce standards of human rights law outside of the context of war (say, the plight of women in India), it's helpful to look to the opinions granting lenient sentences to power crazed psychopaths. It's formed a much clearer body of law that can be practiced in a more intimate fashion with governments not facing a criminal tribunal, but still wanting to fulfill their international legal obligations. The conviction of Milosevic doesn't just concern him and his country, it has set up the necessary legal precedent that could be used to argue for rights with the more rational governments. It still doesn't feel like justice, but it could help just a little more than it hurts.


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