Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

one-step-forward

Book cover, courtesy International Nuremberg Principles Academy. (Original: Montana Historical Society)

On 4 November 2016 in Nuremberg, at its annual forum commemorating the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Nuremberg Principles by the UN General Assembly, the International Nuremberg Principles Academy launched its first book, a volume of deterrence studies titled, Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: The Deterrent Effect of International Criminal Tribunals. This volume comprises ten country studies (Serbia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, DRC, Uganda, Darfur, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali), as well as a chapter on methodology, and conclusions drawing from all the country studies, with recommendations for further action.

Two Steps Forward is notable in a number of respects. While various articles have addressed deterrence in international criminal law in some fashion, it is apparently the first volume that addresses the issue so comprehensively. It also ventures to offer conclusions on the question of deterrence based on quantitative and qualitative research, noting that nearly 20 years have passed since the ICTY and ICTR’s establishment, and nearly 15 since the ICC and Sierra Leone Special Court’s establishment. While the Nuremberg trials themselves arguably took several generations for their effects to be fully felt, enough time has passed that it is fair to begin to examine what has been the deterrent effect so far of international tribunals, and how that effect can be enhanced or improved.

The good news is that in all of the country situations surveyed, at least some deterrent effect was reported. The authors draw on quantitative factors first to assess whether overall criminality has risen or fallen, a fundamental baseline for asking whether crimes have thereafter been deterred. The authors draw on qualitative factors to assess perceptions of deterrence, in particular amongst perpetrators and potentially like-minded individuals, including members of militaries and rebel groups, political actors, diplomats and politicians, as well as academics, civil society members and victims. Perceptions of deterrence are as significant as objectively measurable deterrence; people act on their perceptions, for good or bad, and these actions can help determine whether further crimes will be committed. In all the situation countries surveyed, the authors found that while the international court or tribunal concerned had a deterrent effect, both objective and perceived, it proved difficult to sustain because the factors supporting it often fell apart. This is an important starting point for examining how to ensure that any hard-won deterrent effect is not ultimately lost. Continue reading

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