Bargain Justice from the ICTY

Today’s Washington Post features an article on how the upcoming trial of Radovan Karadzic presents an opportunity for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to improve its image following the somewhat tumultuous trial of Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic. However, even as the Post acknowledges the court’s accomplishments — indicting 161 people, only two of whom remain at large — it seems unnecessarily focused on the court’s (very reasonable) budget and overemphasizes the effect of Milosevic’s antics:

Critics have accused it of being too expensive and ineffective, bringing too few people to justice in view of its vast resources; Milosevic gave it a reputation for unruliness and indecision that lingers today.

First, more than anything else, Milosevic furthered his own reputation for unruliness. And the reason that the court did not come to a decision was because Milosevic died in custody, a development the court could do little about.

On a deeper level, the Post here is guilty of furthering what a spokeswoman for the court’s lead prosecutor called “the perception…that the only case we ever handled was Milosevic.” In fact, as she explains, the court’s work has actually increased since that trial, and, as the statistics cited by the Post attest, it has had an impressive record of success.

The Post‘s preoccupation with the Court’s budget is also unwarranted. As attested by law professor and war crimes court expert Michael Scharf, the court operates remarkably efficiently, particularly when compared to similar entities in the U.S.

A major trial at the tribunal costs about $50 million, according to Scharf. A “mega-trial” in the United States, such as the Oklahoma City bombing case, can cost $70 million or more.

And bringing a notorious war criminal and mass murderer to justice is a good deal, no matter what the price.