Does International Criminal Justice Deter Criminals?
UVA lawprof Rosa Brooks has a measured op-ed in Sunday's LA Times surveying the progress of efforts to prosecute serious violations of international human rights on the 10th anniversary of the massacre at Srebenica. Unlike some advocates of international criminal justice, Prof. Brooks is restrained in her claims for the benefits of international tribunals like the International Criminal Court. Even so, her justification for expanding the scope and powers of international criminal courts has some problems. She writes:
But though it's only a distant second-best to preventing atrocities, punishing perpetrators is still important. It acknowledges the suffering of the victims and in the long run could help deter future abuses by forcing the bad guys to ask themselves if the abuses are worth it, given the increasing likelihood of ending up in jail somewhere down the line.
I don't doubt there are many good reasons to punish perpetrators who have committed serious abuses and that, in some cases, international institutions are necessary to carry out this punishment. But I don't think Prof. Brooks, or any other scholarly supporter of the ICC, has bothered to offer support for her claim that international punishments create a "deterrent" to future abuses by other potential perpetrators.