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The Anxieties of International Criminal Justice



International criminal justice is on one level a project of hubris and promise, but on another level a project arguably riddled by anxieties. These anxieties are linked to the dizziness of choices available to it, and the degree to which every move to compensate for anxieties produces its own form of anxiety. This article surveys ten distinct anxieties that are deemed to be constitutive of the movement. Ultimately, it argues that the neurotic nature of international criminal justice can be the source of its creativity and resilience.



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1 Koskenniemi, M. and Leino, P., ‘Fragmentation of International Law? Postmodern Anxieties’ (2002) 15 LJIL 553.

2 Goodrich, P., ‘Book Review: Law-Induced Anxiety: Legists, Anti-Lawyers and the Boredom of Legality’ (2000) 9 Social & Legal Studies 143.

3 For an attempt to use anxiety as a structuring factor in the very different field of architecture, see Hogben, P., ‘Maintaining an Image of Objectivity: Reflections on an Institutional Anxiety’ (2001) 6 Architectural Theory Review 63. See also Jackson, P. and Everts, J., ‘Anxiety as Social Practice’ (2010) 42 Environment and Planning A 2791.

4 C. Douzinas, The End of Human Rights: Critical Legal Thought at the Turn of the Century (2000).

5 M. Aristodemou, Law and Psychoanalysis: Taking the Unconscious Seriously (2014).

6 I recognize that the two are not entirely irreducible. In particular, psychoanalysis has long shown interest in existential philosophy. Costas Douzinas incorporates references to the ‘existential problem of the international lawyer’. Nonetheless, existentialism's basic proposition and methodology are indebted to an intellectual tradition that is irreducible to psychoanalysis.

7 See Kierkegaard, S. and Anderson, A. B., The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin (Thomte, Reidar ed., 1981). For Kierkegaard, anxiety is associated with the ‘dizziness of freedom’, itself closely tied to a simultaneous process of destruction and creation that creates a constant feeling of guilt.

8 Kennedy, D., ‘Spring Break’ (1984) 63 Tex. L. Rev. 1377. For a personal narrative specifically in the context of international criminal justice, see Tallgren, I., ‘We Did It? The Vertigo of Law and Everyday Life at the Diplomatic Conference on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court’ (2004) 12 LJIL 683.

9 D. Kennedy, The Dark Sides of Virtue: Reassessing International Humanitarianism (2004).

10 Robinson, D., ‘Inescapable Dyads: Why the International Criminal Court Cannot Win’ (2015) 28 LJIL 323.

11 See ICTY, Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadić a/k/a “Dule”, Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction, 2 October 1995.

12 See for example, Roth, B. R., ‘Coming to Terms with Ruthlessness: Sovereign Equality, Global Pluralism, and the Limits of International Criminal Justice’ (2010) 8 Santa Clara J. Int’l L. 231.

13 B. Cooper, ‘The Limits of International Justice’, [2009] World Policy Journal 91.

14 Nouwen, S. MH and Werner, W. G., ‘Doing Justice to the Political: The International Criminal Court in Uganda and Sudan’ (2010) 21 EJIL 941.

15 Schabas, W. A., ‘Prosecutorial Discretion v. Judicial Activism at the International Criminal Court’ (2008) 6 JICJ 731.

16 Weiner, A. S., ‘Prudent Politics: The International Criminal Court, International Relations, and Prosecutorial Independence’ (2013) 12 Washington University Global Studies Law Review 545.

17 Vasiliev, S., ‘The Making of International Criminal Law’, in Brölmann, C. and Radi, Y. (eds), Research Handbook on the Theory & Practice of International Lawmaking (2015).

18 M. Koskenniemi, From Apology to Utopia: The Structure of International Legal Argument (2006).

19 Robinson, supra note 10.

20 These debates were foregrounded early on by the ICTY Tadić and Erdemović decisions which both showed the variety of approaches and outcomes that tribunals could espouse at any one time. Cryer, R., ‘One Appeal, Two Philosophies, Four Opinions and a Remittal: The Erdemovic Case at the ICTY Appeals Chamber’ (1997) 2 Journal of Armed Conflict Law 193.

21 Wright, Q., ‘Legal Positivism and the Nuremberg Judgment’ (1948) 42 AJIL 405.

22 S. Darcy and J. Powderly, Judicial Creativity at the International Criminal Tribunals (2010).

23 Lepard, B. D., ‘How Should the ICC Prosecutor Exercise His or Her Discretion - The Role of Fundamental Ethical Principles’ (2009) 43 John Marshall Law Review 553.

24 Cf. Fichtelberg, A., ‘Democratic Legitimacy and the International Criminal Court A Liberal Defence’ (2006) 4 JICJ 765.

25 Morris, M., ‘The Democratic Dilemma of the International Criminal Court’ (2002) 5 Buffalo Criminal Law Review 591.

26 Glasius, M., ‘Do International Criminal Courts Require Democratic Legitimacy?’ (2012) 23 EJIL 43.

27 Mégret, F., ‘In Whose Name ? The ICC and the Search for Constituency’, in Stahn, C., Kendall, S. and de Vos, C. (eds), The Politics and Practice of International Criminal Court Interventions (forthcoming).

28 Schabas, W. A., ‘The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Is a “Tribunal of an International Character” Equivalent to an “International Criminal Court”?’ (2008) 21 LJIL 513.

29 Milanovic, M., ‘An Odd Couple: Domestic Crimes and International Responsibility in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’ (2007) 5 JICJ 1139.

30 Separate Concurring and Partially Dissenting Opinion of Hon. Justice Bankole Thompson, Prosecutor v. Moinina Fofana and Allieu Kondewa, Case No. SCSL-04–14–5, Judgment, Trial Chamber I, 2 August 2007, paras. 69 and 90.

31 See generally, M. A Drumbl, Atrocity, Punishment, and International Law (2007).

32 J. E. Alvarez, ‘Crimes of States/Crimes of Hate: Lessons from Rwanda’, [1999] Yale Journal of International Law 365.

33 Damaska, M., ‘The Competing Visions of Fairness: The Basic Choice for International Criminal Tribunals’ (2010) 36 North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation 382.

34 W. A. Schabas, ‘Barayagwiza v. Prosecutor (Decision, and Decision on Prosecutor's Request for Review or Reconsideration) Case No. ICTR-97–19-AR72’ [2000] AJIL 563.

35 Mégret, F., ‘Practices of Stigmatization’ (2013) 76 Law & Contemporary Problems.

36 H. Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963).

37 P. Akhavan, Reducing Genocide to Law (2012).

38 M. A. Drumbl, Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law and Policy (2012).

39 Biddiss, M., ‘The Nuremberg Trial Two Exercises in Judgment’ (1981) 16 Journal of Contemporary History 597.

40 Damaska, M., ‘What Is the Point of International Criminal Justice’ (2008) 83 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 329.

41 Art. 36 of the ICC Statute.

42 Robinson, D., ‘The Identity Crisis of International Criminal Law’ (2008) 21 LJIL 925.

43 Immi Tallgren was the first to conceptualize the relationship to domestic courts as a central factor in the definition of the identity of international criminal tribunals. Tallgren, I., ‘Completing the “International Criminal Order”’ (1998) 67 Nordic Journal of International Law 107.

44 Baylis, E., ‘Reassessing the Role of International Criminal Law: Rebuilding National Courts through Transnational Networks’ (2009) 50 BCL Rev. 1.

45 Mégret, F. and Samson, M. G., ‘Holding the Line on Complementarity in Libya The Case for Tolerating Flawed Domestic Trials’ (2013) 11 JICJ 571.

46 Dixon, P. and Tenove, C., ‘International Criminal Justice as a Transnational Field: Rules, Authority and Victims’ (2013) 7 International Journal of Transitional Justice 393.

47 Danner, A.M. and Martinez, J.S., ‘Guilty Associations: Joint Criminal Enterprise, Command Responsibility, and the Development of International Criminal Law’ (2005) 93 California Law Review 75.

48 Farer, T. J., ‘Restraining the Barbarians: Can International Criminal Law Help?’ (2000) 22 Human Rights Quarterly 90.

49 Schrag, M., ‘The Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal: An Interim Assessment’ (1997) 7 Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems 20; Clark, J. N., ‘Judging the ICTY: Has It Achieved Its Objectives?’ (2009) 9 Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 123.

50 ‘Achievements’ <> accessed 10 November 2014.

51 The tribunals can be conceived as producing their own institutional reality that exists independently of its impact on the world. For a dry, non-prescriptive example of this approach, see Smeulers, A., Holá, B. and van den Berg, T., ‘Sixty-Five Years of International Criminal Justice: The Facts and Figures’’ (2013) 13 ICLR 7.

52 Barria, L. A. and Roper, S. D., ‘How Effective Are International Criminal Tribunals? An Analysis of the ICTY and the ICTR’ (2005) 9 The International Journal of Human Rights 349.

53 Cronin-Furman, K., ‘Managing Expectations: International Criminal Trials and the Prospects for Deterrence of Mass Atrocity’ (2013) 7 International Journal of Transitional Justice 434.

54 See Mégret, F., ‘Apology of Utopia; Some Thoughts on Koskenniemian Themes, with Particular Emphasis on Massively Institutionalized International Human Rights Law, The’ (2013) 27 Temp. Int’l & Comp. LJ 455.

55 Backer, L., ‘The Fuhrer Principle of International Law: Individual Responsibility and Collective Punishment’ (2003) 21 Penn State International Law Review 509.

56 Goldston, J. A., ‘More Candour about Criteria the Exercise of Discretion by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court’ (2010) 8 JICJ 383.

57 Koskenniemi, M., ‘Between Impunity and Show Trials’ (2002) 6 Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law 1.

58 David, E., ‘The International Criminal Court: What Is the Point?’ in Wellens, K., International Law: Theory and Practice, Essays in Honour of Eric Suy (1998), 631.

59 D. Kennedy, Of War and Law (2006).

60 D. Kennedy, A Critique of Adjudication [fin de Siecle] (2009).

61 Baylis, E., ‘Tribunal-Hopping with the Post-Conflict Justice Junkies’, (2008) 10 Oregon Review of International Law 361.

62 On the sociological underpinnings of this move, see Hagan, J. and Levi, R., ‘Crimes of War and the Force of Law’ (2005) 83 Social Forces 1499.

63 Tallgren, I., ‘The Sensibility and Sense of International Criminal Law’ (2002) 13 EJIL 561.

* Associate-Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University. Canada Research Chair in the Law of Human Rights and Legal Pluralism [].



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