International Criminal Justice

International Criminal Justice

Legitimacy and Coherence

Edited by Gideon Boas, William A. Schabas and Michael P. Scharf

International criminal justice as a discipline throws up numerous conceptual issues, engaging disciplines such as law, politics, history, sociology and psychology, to name but a few. This book addresses themes around international criminal justice from a mixture of traditional and more radical perspectives.

Chapter 1: What is international criminal justice?

Gideon Boas

Subjects: law - academic, criminal law and justice, human rights, public international law, politics and public policy, human rights, terrorism and security


What is understood by the phrase ‘international criminal justice’ is surprisingly difficult to articulate comprehensively. At a fundamental level, it describes the response of the international community – and other communities – to mass atrocity. This seems to be a broadly accepted definition. How we respond to war, to the rupture of society and to systematised murder and persecution, is at the heart of the issue. What forms of transitional justice are attempted and how their goals are achieved, or at least attempted, are all important responses.1 But international criminal justice is about more than responses. How do we learn from history, or sometimes fail to do so? Can we use our understanding of human psychology to respond better to mass atrocity, or to prevent or address it sooner? What of the sociological elements that are infused in our response to heinous international crimes; how do these affect our understanding and practice of international criminal justice? This chapter explores some different perspectives and disciplinary approaches to this complex area, including political, historical and soci- ological perspectives. This is important because, while as international lawyers we have raised important questions about legitimacy and coher- ence, we do not always open ourselves to a genuinely multidisciplinary approach to the debate about international criminal justice. One might say that the obvious embodiment of international criminal justice comes in the form of international war crimes trials.

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