ICTY Judge discusses challenges of international criminal court, tribunals

October 30, 2007Duke Law News

Oct. 22, 2007 -- Does international criminal justice work? How effective are international courts and tribunals in bringing perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice while respecting these perpetrators’ right to a fair trial? Can international courts and tribunals be tools for peacemaking and deterring future crimes?

Theodor Meron, judge and former president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), discussed these issues during his keynote speech for Duke Law School’s International Week, Oct. 22-26. His presentation, “Challenges of Impunity – Does International Criminal Justice Work?,” included lessons learned from his personal experiences on the criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and his long career in international law.

Meron noted that the discussion of whether international criminal justice works is itself remarkable; just 20 years ago, the question would have been whether the world might ever have another international criminal court. Until then, the post-World War II international military tribunals at Nuremberg and Tokyo in 1945 and 1946 were the only examples of a global effort to prosecute crimes against humanity.

But in recent decades, and particularly since the establishment of the ICTY in 1993 and the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, international criminal justice has become a fast-growing field of practice and scholarship  and the center of international debate. Just 105 nations have ratified the treaty that established the ICC; those that have not ratified the treaty include the United States, China, and India and represent 70 percent of the world’s population.

Most major nations did, however, support the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda (ICTR). The success of those tribunals demonstrates that, with international support, such mechanisms can bring perpetrators of war crimes and genocide to justice. Whether criminals are apprehended and tried is one of the key criteria for determining the success of an international criminal justice system, Meron said. Other criteria include the due process given to the accused, the system’s ability to promote peace and deter future crimes, and help nations heal from the wounds of genocide and war crimes.

A leading scholar of international human rights law and international criminal law whose work helped build the legal foundations for international criminal tribunals, Meron is the Charles L. Denison Professor of Law Emeritus and Judicial Fellow at New York University Law School. A Holocaust survivor, he received his legal education at the University of Jerusalem and Harvard and Cambridge Universities.

Meron’s presentation, which was sponsored by the Duke Center for International & Comparative Law, was the kick-off event for Duke Law’s International Week. Now in its seventh year, International Week celebrates the diversity of the Duke Law community. In addition to Judge Meron’s keynote address, highlights include the annual “Croissants et Café” gathering for students, faculty, and staff, the Cultural Extravaganza and Talent Show, and an international “Food Fiesta” that will close the week. Current LLM candidates will also take part in a panel discussion on the globalization of law practice, and Jason Ullner JD/LLM ’99 will discuss his transition from private practice to the U.S. Foreign Service. To see the complete schedule, visit Duke Law’s calendar.