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Killing Globally, Punishing Locally?: The Still-Unmapped Ecology of Atrocity

40 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2012  

Timothy William Waters

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

Date Written: 2008


This article reviews Mark A. Drumbl's Atrocity, Punishment and International Law (Cambridge 2007), which is critical of the international criminal law (ICL) paradigm and proposes alternatives to more realistically account for the collective and social aspects of mass violence. Drumbl’s core intuition — that the ICL paradigm fails, and by its nature will fail, to address much of the complexity of great evil, while also driving out local variation responsive to the interests and needs of affected communities — is surely right, and his conclusion — that it is time to move beyond the protectively encomiastic Pollyannism of the early ICL project and begin to ask searching questions about costs, benefits, failings, and improvement — is right as well. So the intuitions and the conclusions are right; the framework in between — and the implications beyond — are places of complexity, contestation, and, inevitably, speculation.

This review develops around a theme which, though a minor note in Drumbl's book, is one that might productively be brought to the fore, because it complements the argument: the idea of an ecology of atrocity and punishment. The rationales for diverse responses to atrocity lie in claims about local, particular instantiations of highly general universal norms in ways that are sensitive to context, culture, history, politics, and values. The language of environmentalism and biodiversity or of human and cultural geography might ground and describe the rationales of complexity, diversity, and underlying commonality that Drumbl locates in cosmopolitan pluralism: genetically related, but speciated, specialized, inter-related but suited to the niches in which they dwell. And so although the tropes and frameworks of these disciplines are not the structure Drumbl has chosen, he has — as with his principal themes — indicated a direction in which things might evolve: an ecological perspective with the still-unfinished project of mapping that implies.

Keywords: ICL, atrocity, punishment, Mark Drumbl, book review, ecology

JEL Classification: Q20, K42, K40, K33, N40

Suggested Citation

Waters, Timothy William, Killing Globally, Punishing Locally?: The Still-Unmapped Ecology of Atrocity (2008). 55 Buffalo L. Rev. 1331-70 (2008). 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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