Yesterday I did a presentation on International Justice in relationship to the Pinochet Dictatorship in Chile, this piece is based on some of the material I discussed in that presentation. This area is, in my opinion, very poorly conceptualized and makes lots of unfounded assumptions, I apologise in advance if any of these have creeped into this piece, and would welcome anyone pointing out any if they spot them.
Putting an end to abuses of human rights is something that most people say they would strive for. The response to mass human rights violations in most cases (this is in most cases where there is one!) is some form of international justice. International justice in these cases can be split into two distinct camps in these cases. Firstly there are International Criminal Tribunals (or the now existing International Criminal Court) and secondly there are Truth Commissions. I’ll describe and discuss each in turn then criticise them both.
International Criminal Tribunals are based on the good old fashioned, cost-benefit, rational choice theories. Thus they aim to punish those who have offended against human rights to restore the universal balance. This is also supposed to deter other world elites from copying them too. However, for me this whole method is based on the idea that the tops of society have absolute control over those below them and manipulate them completely. Now of course, to a certain extent this could be the case, but it’s a far too simplistic understanding of society.
Furthermore, tribunals take an awful lot of time, and very few people end up getting tried by them. Similarly, a lot of the time the courts fail to hold people to account, Pinochet is a good example of this, but what about today’s great warmongers Bush and Blair.
Truth Commissions are all about healing and reconciliation through providing an accurate account of the human rights violations that happened over a period of time. They don’t have prosecutorial powers usually, unlike a the Tribunals, and have more recently been used in conjunction with prosecution of the leading figures in carrying out the human rights abuses. They are also often vested with producing suggestions of how such events can be prevented in future.
However, most Truth Commissions are set-up in a transitional period usually between the regime that carried out the abuses and an incoming ‘democratic’ government. This usually means some sort of compromise on the limits and extent of such a commission.
However, in my opinion there are two great flaws with these methods. Firstly, these methods look at these in a limited national conception, the only perpetrators according to these are those within the national country. Secondly, both methods don’t get to the root causes of these situations, the brutal conditions that people are forced to live in around most of the world.
This is just a short piece on this, but for myself one thing however is clear. In a globalised capitalist world, international justice is only possible if it doesn’t interfere seriously with imperialist aims.