Research Handbook on the International Penal System
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Research Handbook on the International Penal System

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.
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Chapter 18: Creating an international prison

Margaret M. Penrose


Where do individuals sentenced by an international criminal court go to serve their sentence? Currently, the answer is: ‘it depends’. It depends on which international tribunal convicted the individual, which States have entered a cooperation agreement to enforce sentences with the particular tribunal, and, which State the tribunal believes is the best fit for that particular individual. Because there is currently no international prison or single location to enforce the criminal sentences imposed by international tribunals, where a convict serves their sentence is a constant uncertainty. There have been many advancements in international criminal law within the past three decades, including the development of ad hoc Tribunals to try those accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity. The ad hoc Tribunals have diminished immunity for some of the world’s most heinous crimes (excluding terrorism and human trafficking). Ratification of the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, ensures a permanent approach to combating international crimes: individuals accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity will either be prosecuted in a court of law or ostracized. This new era of accountability has resulted in the international prosecutions of high-profile defendants and former heads of State. But, there remain critical enforcement shortcomings in the current system. The ICC is literally just a court, a building with judges, lawyers and staff, with no enforcement mechanisms to secure arrests or effectuate sentences.

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