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International Criminal Tribunals as Actors of Domestic Change

The Impact on Media Coverage, Volume 1


Edited By Klaus Bachmann, Irena Ristić and Gerhard Kemp

Do International Criminal Tribunals trigger social change, provide reconciliation, stabilize fragile post-conflict societies? Many authors claim they do, but they base their assumptions mainly on theoretical considerations and opinion polls. The editors and authors of this book take a different position: based on extensive field research in nine European and African countries, they examine whether tribunal decisions resulted in changes in media frames about the conflicts which gave rise to the creation of these tribunals. International Tribunals hardly ever shape or change the grand narratives about wars and other conflicts, but they often manage to trigger small changes in media frames which, in some cases, even lead to public reflexion about guilt and responsibility and more awareness for (the respective enemy’s) victims. On an empirical basis, this book shows the potential of International Criminal Justice, the possibilities, but also the limits of International Criminal Tribunals. Volume 1 presents the evidence from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia and Croatia.

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When the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) were created, they were first and foremost expected to do justice and prosecute perpetrators of the most heinous crimes. However, in the respective United Nations General Assembly resolutions and the resolutions of the UN Security Council, the tribunals were also expected to contribute to peace-keeping, the stabilization of the countries under their jurisdiction and even – in the case of Rwanda – to reconciliation. Later on, judges at both tribunals referred to these expectations, justifying some of their judgments and decisions with the aim to contribute to reconciliation, either by invoking the (alleged) will of victims or the (also alleged) need to reintegrate perpetrators.1

The hopes of these international tribunals’ founders were often shared by the media and the wider public. International criminal tribunals (ICTs) were not only expected to judge crimes and criminals, but also to reunite broken communities, prevent revenge, deter potential perpetrators from committing crimes, and deliver convincing and unifying narratives about the atrocities that had taken place. Although these hopes overstretched the capacities of the tribunals, their representatives often referred to them and sometimes even tried to achieve them. One of the more specific expectations in this context was the wish of many, the tribunals might “shrink the space of denial”.2 By exposing unknown or supressed facts about past atrocities and by condemning them publically, the tribunals were expected to prevent communities, community leaders, and...

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