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When Justice Meets Politics

Independence and Autonomy of "Ad Hoc International</I> Criminal Tribunals


Klaus Bachmann, Thomas Sparrow-Botero and Peter Lambertz

Are the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) independent actors, who mete out fair and un-biased justice, or instruments of a new world order, which execute the will of the most powerful states? By applying process tracing and frame analysis, this book reveals the interplay between the power politics of states, the agenda setting power of international criminal tribunals and the scope of the autonomy which the tribunals, the prosecutors and judges enjoy – and how they make use of it. The book details the mechanisms that govern judicial behaviour at the ICTY and the ICTR as well as the influence of the media, non-governmental organisations, governments and international organisations on judges and prosecutors. Last but not least, it shows why and how initially controversial frames like those about the «genocide in Srebrenica» and «the Rwandan genocide» became almost undisputed notions which are hardly challenged by anyone today.


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International criminal tribunals are very specific institutions. They are courts and as such their main task is to administer justice and to judge the perpetrators of the most horrendous crimes of our times, mostly war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. In this respect, they are instruments of justice, like any other criminal court. But at the same time, international criminal tribunals are international institutions, created by states, alliances of states, or international organisations. They are therefore subject to power politics, political influences and international bargaining; their final institutional design and the content of their rules is the result of compromises between states. By creating specific tribunals, states try to anticipate possible outcomes of the prosecutors’ actions and the judges’ verdicts; they introduce institutional, financial and legal safeguards in order to prevent the tribunal from infringing their interests. International criminal tribunals are special. In contrast to municipal courts, they are not embedded in a stable, traditional and commonly known legal system; they cannot resort to coercion without seeking the assistance of a state, and they do not have efficient means to compel hesitant governments and state agencies to comply with their orders. Much of their actual power comes from the prestige and the support of the public, which they often enjoy. In the past international criminal tribunals have often been instruments of victor’s justice, but this, surprisingly, did not always prevent them from gaining acceptance within the society they were established for. The International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, which judged...

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