Krstic gets attacked in a British Prison: new wounds show that old ones still open…

Radislav Krstic, the Bosnian-Serb General found guilty of complicity for genocide for Srebrenica was attacked in the high security British prison where he is carrying out his sentence. Apparently, the attack was conducted by three muslim detainees in retaliation for his war-time conduct. This of course raises serious questions on the conditions of detention and the incompetence of the British prison authorities.

It also raises questions on some of the more politico-philosophical issues surrounding international justice. One of the main arguments of the proponents of this form of mechanism to deal with past atrocities is that it fosters reconciliation. This is just one case, but it’s hard to see reconciliation happening when throats are being cut open. More generally, someone at the ISA conference in February (can’t seem to find the reference right now) was presenting figures of an opinion poll that showed that a majority of serbs still don’t think that something happened in Srebrenica (the bodies were in fact dummies, goes one version…) and those who do believe to a large majority that is was a legitimate war reprisal between combatants. Hardly a sign, once again, that things are moving forward.

More fundamentally, this event, three british muslims attempting to kill a Bosnian-Serb general for the massacre of bosnian muslims, shows the difficulty of defining the right framework for analysing international justice and its consequences. There are clashing logics in the narratives of international justice. Indeed, the initial logic of international justice is that certain crimes are such that they affect the international community as a whole and therefore warrant 1) to be qualified as international crimes and 2) be prosecuted before an international court. Tadic was a prime example of this kind of reasoning. More recently, with the transitional justice movement, discussions of reconciliation have attempted to “relocate” international justice within the national setting. But that is not entirely possible anymore because we have, through the cross-border universalisation of values and the setting of international justice within a “global community” logic, paradoxically weakened the relevancy of the local political entity, thus making the local impact less effective. In effect, by internationalising justice we have contributed to the internationalisation of the conflict itself, as the Krstic attack shows…

This is only a tentative reflexion on the articulation between the local and the international from a political and legal theory perspective (what legal order are we talking about? what social contract?) but I remain surprised at how little academic thought within the ICL community goes into the analysis of these general systemic questions. It might seem unimportant on the short term (“as long as justice is done somewhere…”), but the long-term consistency of the system depends on it.

2 responses to “Krstic gets attacked in a British Prison: new wounds show that old ones still open…

  1. I do not fully agree with this philosophical approach – everything you hint at already happens in domestic systems: no long-term consistency, conflicts of jurisdictions, no tangible improvement of social relations between, say, rival gangs inside or outside prisons…Of course, the Srebrenica example you mention could be looked at from the opposite angle: what would have happened to perception of the massacre without the ICTY? That would also be a legitimate question…What you are getting at, I think, is the problem of the foundations of criminal law in general, not of international criminal law specifically. The clashing logics you mention are, mutatis mutandis, the same that inform domestic debate on ordinary criminal law since the 1960s: why do we define certain conduct as criminal? At what level should these crimes be punished? What are the purposes of criminal punishment? Should one jurisdiction prevail over another one when the crime is cross-border?

  2. Thank you once again for your comment Guido. I take your point about the difficulties of criminal law in general, but that is not quite what i'm saying. When I mention the two logics, I don't mention them within one legal order, but between two legal orders, the international one and the national one. We have tried to create an international criminal law without an international social contract, putting, so to speak, the cart before the ox… I do hope we get to meet some time to discuss these topics!

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