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Extraordinary Crimes at Ordinary Times: International Justice Beyond Crisis Situations

64 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2006  

Sonja B. Starr

University of Michigan Law School


International criminal tribunals have focused exclusively on crimes arising from crisis situations - war crimes and mass atrocities. International criminal law scholarship has generally taken this crisis focus for granted, emphasizing the objectives of transitional justice in the wake of extraordinary social upheaval. Meanwhile, extremely serious crimes committed on a longer-term, daily basis have been excluded from the agenda of international criminal law. This article examines the history and impact of this crisis emphasis and explores alternative approaches in light of tribunals' institutional capacities and resource constraints. Using the principal example of catastrophic grand governmental corruption, it makes a practical, theoretical, and doctrinal case for international prosecution of some non-crisis-linked crimes, and concludes that tribunals' exclusive crisis focus is indefensible as a permanent condition. However, for reasons of legitimacy and political strategy, it recommends a gradual approach toward expanding that focus, taking advantage of the transformative effect of crises in building acceptance of legal principles that can then be applied in other situations.

Keywords: International criminal law, international tribunals, corruption

Suggested Citation

Starr, Sonja B., Extraordinary Crimes at Ordinary Times: International Justice Beyond Crisis Situations. Northwestern University Law Review, Vol. 101, 2007; Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 133. Available at SSRN:

Sonja B. Starr (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State St
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States
617 821-1222 (Phone)

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