Last week, the current President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Theodor Meron, appeared on BBC’s HARDtalk. Meron, a luminary in the world of international criminal justice who has published widely and is universally respected for his work and thinking on matters of international justice, held his own on a show that isn’t known to be particularly easy with its guests. You could tell at various moments during the interview that host Stephen Sackur holds Meron and his work in very high regard.
The interview covers various issues, including the potential deterrence effect of international justice, the weighing of international criminal justice against other transitional justice mechanisms, the legality of Israel’s settlements on Palestinian territories, and the selectivity of international tribunals. Of course, no debate would be complete without touching on the ‘peace versus justice’ debate.
Specifically, Meron was asked whether Syria’s Bashar al-Assad should be granted amnesty in order to persuade him to step down. On this, the ICTY President claimed that we need to find ways where both justice and peace-making function simultaneously. He added that the trade-off was a question 0f sequencing or timing rather than a matter of principle but that without criminal accountability, there could be no sustainable democracy or respect for the rule of law.
The argument that peace and justice can be effectively sequenced reflects much of the current thinking in the ‘peace versus justice’ debate. But it’s not without its weaknesses, as I have argued previously. The reality is that no perpetrator of mass atrocities is likely to accept an amnesty that they believe would subsequently be revoked. It is likely for this reason that premeditated sequencing has no history (as far as I can tell) in practice.
Regardless, the episode is a must-watch. It’s another opportunity to get a glimpse into the thinking of an individual who, more than almost anyone else, has shaped the world of international criminal justice.