Arab League justice for Syria?

In today’s New York Times, Aryeh Neier contends that an Arab League tribunal should investigate crimes being committed in Syria. With the International Criminal Court out of the game (unless the Security Council agrees to refer the matter), Neier is understandably casting about for another way of bringing justice to bear. In so doing, he ...

By , a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.

In today's New York Times, Aryeh Neier contends that an Arab League tribunal should investigate crimes being committed in Syria. With the International Criminal Court out of the game (unless the Security Council agrees to refer the matter), Neier is understandably casting about for another way of bringing justice to bear. In so doing, he strongly suggests that creating an Arab League tribunal would mitigate the conflict and deter future atrocities:

In today’s New York Times, Aryeh Neier contends that an Arab League tribunal should investigate crimes being committed in Syria. With the International Criminal Court out of the game (unless the Security Council agrees to refer the matter), Neier is understandably casting about for another way of bringing justice to bear. In so doing, he strongly suggests that creating an Arab League tribunal would mitigate the conflict and deter future atrocities:

[T]he urgent need to prevent further atrocities justifies giving [perpetrators] an incentive to stop. Of course, some of those responsible for crimes would imagine that they would never be apprehended and brought to justice. Yet the record of other international tribunals makes it increasingly necessary for them to take such courts seriously. 

That’s a questionable claim. Neier cites the international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as an important precedent but slides over the fact that the war’s worst atrocity (the Srebrenica massacre) occurred after the court was up and running–and, indeed, after key Bosnian Serb leaders had been indicted. Nor are the more recent Darfur and Libya cases (both investigated by the International Criminal Court) strong evidence for the deterrent power of international justice. Despite a weak evidentiary record, key supporters of international justice persistently make deterrence claims. I don’t understand why. As they would certainly acknowledge, justice is a worthy end  in itself.

David Bosco is a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of The Poseidon Project: The Struggle to Govern the World’s Oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

Tag: Syria

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