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Research Handbook on the International Penal System

Research Handbook on the International Penal System

Research Handbooks in International Law series

Edited by Róisín Mulgrew and Denis Abels

Drawing on the expertise and experience of contributors from a wide range of academic, professional and judicial backgrounds, this handbook critically analyses the laws, policies and practices that govern detention, punishment and the enforcement of sentences in the international criminal justice context. Comprehensive and innovative, it also explores broader normative questions related to international punishment and makes recommendations for the international penal system’s development.

Chapter 11: Limiting the objectives of the enforcement of international punishment

Denis Abels

Subjects: law - academic, criminal law and justice, human rights, public international law


International criminal justice is an ambitious undertaking. This is due to high expectations on the part of different stakeholders. The international criminal tribunals are generally expected to serve such ‘grand’ goals as promoting or maintaining peace and security, historiography, upholding and advancing the rule of law, fostering or contributing to reconciliation and giving a voice to victims of mass atrocity. The sentencing judges of international criminal tribunals and courts have added to those objectives the classic aims of punishment, i.e., retribution and prevention (the latter through deterrence, incapacitation and, to a much lesser extent, rehabilitation), which they appear to import from the domestic context. The aim of this chapter is to lay the basis for an inquiry into the objectives of the enforcement of international punishment. Prison law is an area that is already characterized by having many, sometimes competing objectives: resocialization or rehabilitation, normalization and a rights-based approach may clash with security, order and safety considerations. This chapter addresses the issue of whether the larger objectives of international criminal justice should also play a direct role in the tribunals’ penal regimes for the enforcement of the tribunals’ sentencing judgments.

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