Did the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Deter Atrocity?

PluriCourts seminar with Fulbright scholar Jacqueline McAllister.

Alleviating the immense suffering associated with contemporary civil wars is of crucial concern to policy-makersand international relations scholars.  A key hope behind the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and a subsequent generation of international criminal tribunals (ICTs) was that they might prevent and facilitate an end to such suffering.  

However, whether ICTs are in fact living up to the hopes of their founders remains unclear.  

This paper seeks to explain how and when ICT officials’ efforts to prosecute international humanitarian law violations amidst civil wars affects the decisions and actions of combatants.  It turns to analytically rich case studies to provide acausal analysis of international criminal deterrence: the ICTY’s intervention in conflicts associated with the break-up of Yugoslavia.  Focusing on the ICTY is particularly useful given its extensive and varied involvement in armed conflicts that are long over.  There is also an abundance of reliable, longitudinal data for the conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia.  

By triangulating a wealth of primary and interview data (over 200 semi-structured interviews) collected throughout Southeast Europe and in The Hague, I find that the ICTY played a key role in deterring select rebel and government forces’ use of violence against civilians, particularly in the 2001 Macedonian conflict.  I argue that ICTY officials succeeded in curbing violence against civilians when they secured support for prosecutions, as well as confronted centralized armed groups that sought support from liberal constituencies.  The ICTY’s record thus shed much-needed insight into how and when ICTs can specifically influence certain armed groups to step back from the brink of further bloodshed.



PluriCourt Seminars are a forum for pluridisciplinary discussion of core issues relating to international courts and tribunals. PluriCourts scholars or invited speakers present new and ongoing research or comment on current questions. The seminars are open to everyone.

Tags: Criminal law, Effects
Published Sep. 5, 2017 7:58 AM - Last modified July 29, 2018 9:35 PM