The Limits of Retributive Justice: Findings of an Empirical Study in Bosnia and Hercegovina
Posted: 18 Aug 2009
Date Written: July 2009
Notwithstanding the recent proliferation of war crimes tribunals, a fundamental question remains: whether the confidence that such institutions have generated among their supporters is, in fact, justified. Using the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) as a case study, this article empirically explores four reputed merits of criminal trials - that they dissipate calls for revenge, individualize guilt, establish a historical record and contribute to reconciliation. It demonstrates that each of these claims, with the possible exception of the first, is problematic, which, in turn, highlights the limits of retributive justice. Hence, the article advocates the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Bosnia to complement the ICTY's work. It also maintains that our expectations of war crimes tribunals need to be more realistic, in view of the obstacles and challenges that they face, and that their mandates should be more specifically tailored to the particular circumstances in which they are operating.
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