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A Kind of Judgment: Searching for Judicial Narratives After Death

70 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2012  

Timothy William Waters

Indiana University - Maurer School of Law; Max Planck Institute (International Law)

Date Written: April 10, 2012


Much of international criminal law’s attraction rests on the ‘authoritative narrative theory’ — the claim that legal judgment creates incontestable narratives that serve as the foundation, or at least a baseline, for post-conflict reconciliation. So what happens when there is no judgment? This is the situation that confronted the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia when its most prominent defendant, Slobodan Milošević, died. By turning scholarship’s attention towards a terminated trial, this Article develops an indirect but powerful challenge to one of the dominant views about what international criminal law is for, with interdisciplinary implications for human rights, international relations, diplomacy, and political science.

What can be salvaged from the terminated Milošević trial? One candidate for ersatz substitute judgment was the Decision on the Motion for Acquittal brought under the Tribunal’s Rule 98bis. Halfway through the trial, when the prosecution rested, the Trial Chamber had to decide whether there was a case to answer. The Chamber declared that the trial should go forward, though what the judges actually decided was necessarily ambiguous: The prosecution had presented enough evidence that a court could find Milošević guilty — but they didn’t say that this court would.

Since there never was a final verdict, the decision has become a site of contestation and ambiguous value. This Article examines how the prosecution, defense, chambers, and outsiders deployed the Rule 98bis Decision to tell a story about Milošević’s guilt or innocence and craft a final judgment in the eyes of the world, if not in the law. The doctrinal constraints on these efforts suggest real limits on international criminal law’s ability to craft authoritative and transformative narratives through any trial process short of final judgment. By forensically exploring these limits, the Article also indicates parameters for an even more consequential investigation into whether the strong version of the authoritative narrative theory works under any circumstances.

Keywords: international criminal law, ICTY, Yugoslavia, Milosevic, judgment, Rule 98, no case to answer, authoritative narrative theory, tribunals, ICL

JEL Classification: K33, K19, K14, P33, Z00, K42, N40

Suggested Citation

Waters, Timothy William, A Kind of Judgment: Searching for Judicial Narratives After Death (April 10, 2012). 42 Geo. Wash. Int'l L. Rev. 279-348 (2010). Available at SSRN:

Timothy William Waters (Contact Author)

Indiana University - Maurer School of Law ( email )

211 S. Indiana Ave.
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

Max Planck Institute (International Law) ( email )

Im Neuenheimer Feld 535
69120 Heidelberg, 69120

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