Debate: The role of international criminal justice in fostering compliance with international humanitarian law

Much has been written about the "deterrent" role of international courts and tribunals in preventing potential atrocities. Since the establishment of the ad hoc tribunals and the International Criminal Court, the international community has sought to anchor the legitimacy of international justice in the "fight against impunity". Yet recent studies have suggested that an overly broad characterization of international courts and tribunals as "actors of deterrence" might misplace expectations and fail to adequately capture how deterrence works – namely, at different stages, within a net of institutions, and affecting different actors at different times. The Review invited two practitioners to share their perspectives on the concrete effects of international criminal justice on fostering compliance with international humanitarian law. Chris Jenks questions the "general deterrence" role of international criminal justice, contending that the influence of complicated and often prolonged judicial proceedings on the ultimate behaviour of military commanders and soldiers is limited. Guido Acquaviva agrees that "general deterrence", if interpreted narrowly, is the wrong lens through which to be looking at international criminal justice. However, he disagrees that judicial decisions are not considered by military commanders, and argues that it is not the individual role of each court or tribunal that matters; rather, it is their overall contribution to an ever more comprehensive system of accountability that can ultimately foster better compliance with international humanitarian law.

About the authors

Chris Jenks
Assistant Professor

Chris Jenks is Assistant Professor of Law and Director of the Criminal Justice Clinic at the SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas, Texas. Prior to joining the law faculty at SMU, he served for twenty years in the US Army, initially as an Infantry officer in Germany, Kuwait and Bosnia, then as a Judge Advocate in the Republic of Korea and Iraq and as the chief of the Army’s international law branch in the Pentagon.

Guido Acquaviva
Senior Legal Officer

Dr Guido Acquaviva is Senior Legal Officer at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (Chambers). Prior to that, he worked at the ICTY as a Legal Officer. Dr Acquaviva has lectured at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, at the LLM in International Crime and Justice at UNICRI, University of Turin, and at the University of Milan – Bicocca, and has published extensively on public international law and international criminal law.