Slobodan Milosevic, credit ICTY

Do Criminal Tribunals Actually Deter War Crimes?

Can criminal tribunals prevent war crimes and crimes against humanity?

Ever since the Nuremberg Tribunals of Nazi officers following World War Two, the question of whether or not the criminal prosecution of war criminals can prevent and deter crimes against humanity has been hotly debated by scholars and practitioners of international affairs.

A new study in the journal International Security by Dr. Jacqueline McAllister examines this question directly. Jacqueline McAllister is an assistant professor of political science at Kenyon College. Her article, titled “Deterring Wartime Atrocities: Hard Lessons from the Yugoslav Tribunal”  investigates the circumstances the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, known as the ICTY, was able to deter war crimes during the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s.

She finds that, indeed, there were some circumstances in which the ICTY deterred crimes against humanity–but for that to happen, the conditions have to be just right.

We discuss what those conditions are, how she arrived at her findings, and what implications her study has for other war crimes tribunals, like the International Criminal Court.


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