CANCELLED: On Knife's Edge: Lessons from the Yugoslav Tribunal on Deterring Wartime Atrocities

Human Rights Seminar with Fulbright fellow Jacqueline McAllister.

Due to ue to unforeseen circumstances, the seminar has been cancelled.


Jacqueline will present the final, large-N empirical chapter of her book manuscript, On Knife's Edge.  The chapter tests whether findings on the Yugoslav Tribunal's deterrent effect apply to the International Criminal Court, the only other war crimes tribunal with jurisdiction covering active civil conflicts.


A key hope behind wartime international criminal tribunals (ICTs) is that they might, among other things, deter horrific atrocities.  However, almost 25 years after the establishment of the first wartime ICT—the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)—international justice scholars continue to debate whether they can do so.  Realists remain skeptical, maintaining that ICTs simply face too many obstacles to deter atrocities, especially in war zones.  At worst, the threat of international criminal prosecution might motivate combatants to lash-out against civilians.  Liberals are more optimistic, arguing that so long as ICTs secure prosecutorial support, then they can deter civilian suffering.  This study argues that neither perspective is entirely correct.  Contrary to realism, wartime ICTs can deter, versus escalate violence against civilians.  However, it is actually far harder for them to do so than liberals have thus far recognized.  Mainly, even with (1) prosecutorial support, wartime ICTs are only likely to deter violence against civilians by armed groups that not only (2) seek liberal support for their core war aims, but also (3) maintain a centralized structure.  Case studies of 13 combatant groups’ use of violence against civilians show that the ICTY only deterred violence against civilians when all three conditions were present.  Hundreds of interviews and contemporaneous documents support these findings.  The book also tests whether lessons from the Yugoslav Tribunal explain the International Criminal Court’s effect on civilian killings.  Ultimately, the record of the first wartime ICT has a lot to teach us about steps international actors can take to help alleviate civilian suffering.

Published May 3, 2018 11:54 AM - Last modified July 29, 2018 9:42 PM