Refracted Justice: The Imagined Victim and the International Criminal Court
Contested Justice: The Politics and Practice of International Criminal Court Interventions (Ed. De Vos, Kendall, Stahn, Cambridge University Press, 2015)
25 Pages Posted: 23 May 2014 Last revised: 5 Apr 2016
Date Written: December 20, 2015
Catastrophic violence seizes our imaginations. Victims of mass atrocity crimes are invoked by the protagonists of international criminal justice as one of the primary moral justifications for this unique enterprise. As figured by the field of international criminal justice, these “imagined” victims demand accountability as the highest value pursued by justice institutions. However, employing the international criminal justice discourse on victims, international courts and tribunals almost unfailingly satisfy imagined victims while just as consistently frustrating the real ones. Drawing on insights from critical theory and critical discourse analysis, this chapter contributes to critical reflection on transitional justice mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court, and aims to consider the political and social dimensions of international criminal justice. In so doing, it advances two arguments. First, it argues that the theory of the victim generated by international criminal justice produces a particular understanding of victims. This imagined victim works to mask the legal subordination of victims by the judicial institutions that derive their legitimacy, in part, through their service to this same constituency. Second, using the ICC case against Thomas Lubanga as an illustration, it argues that the imagined victim supports the logics of international criminal justice. These logics limit the particular meanings and desires of real victims for justice. The chapter thus contributes to international discussions of the values of international criminal justice and the ability of the ICC to live up to its moral commitments.
Keywords: International criminal justice, critical theory, transitional justice, victims
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