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  • Globalizing Justice for Mass Atrocities: A Revolution in Accountability
  • Amy Ross (bio)
Globalizing Justice for Mass Atrocities: A Revolution in Accountability, by Chandra Lekha Sriram (London and New York: Routledge, 2005), 185 pp.

Certain powerful individuals thought to be responsible for human rights abuses are being served indictments, and—occasionally but increasingly—brought before judicial bodies. Currently, dozens of cases have been brought before national jurisdictions and international juridical bodies involving charges of human rights violations. Even high-ranking state officials, some of whom have enjoyed impunity for decades, are facing indictments on charges of human rights abuses. Particularly since the arrest of Pinochet in London in 1998, scholars have observed, with increasing interest, the acceleration of activity in prosecuting the powerful.

The increase of cases—aptly described as "the justice cascade"—has provoked debates among scholars, activists and practitioners. Many have observed that the prosecution of human rights abusers often occurs "elsewhere," that is, in a place other than where the crimes occurred. How does where, and how, these prosecutions occur, influence the potential of justice in combating mass atrocity? Why are some jurisdictions chosen above others? What happens when the international community asserts it authority to prosecute national leaders? A central concern is the costs and/or benefits associated with pursuing these trials, and the choice of jurisdictions in which these judicial prosecutions are occurring. The stakes are extremely high: for the victims of past atrocities that demand justice, for the government leaders in a position to be prosecuted for such violations, for an international order predicated on peaceful relations between nation-states, in short, for all of humanity.

Chandra Lekha Sriram's Globalizing Justice for Mass Atrocities; A Revolution in Accountability takes on these issues in powerful and productive ways. Sriram's work is both empirical and analytical: Globalizing Justice provides specific details of a range of cases, identifies the emerging trends in international justice, and probes the theoretical implications of this burgeoning and chaotic area of law and politics. The author's contribution in Globalising Justice is to highlight the unevenness of these dynamic developments. This unevenness, Sriram insists, is cause for some concern, even as human rights advocates have largely welcomed the rash of prosecutions as a positive sign that justice and accountability have the [End Page 542] potential to defeat impunity and prevent future violations.

Sriram's book, organized in two parts, makes order of scores of cases. Part One "Externalized Justice," examines the cases in which trials are held in foreign jurisdictions, and Part Two "Externalization Reversed: Mixed Tribunals," explores cases in which the foreign arrives on the national scene, in the form of an international tribunal set in the nation in which the crimes occurred.

Part One, "Externalized Justice," is a systematic presentation of cases brought before national courts, involving perpetrators and crimes that have occurred in other nations. The majority of the cases evaluated have appeared in European national courts, broadly under the principle of "universal jurisdiction" (the author carefully notes differences in which the courts have invoked aspects of the more general principle). Universal jurisdiction is rooted in centuries old laws concerned with combating piracy on the high seas, when emerging colonial powers sought international agreements so as to combat the common threat of pirates to merchant capitalism and the colonial order. From these early agreements between states evolved the notion that, for example, a British ship could capture and arrest a pirate that had attacked a French vessel. In modern times, as Sriram explains,

Such ample jurisdiction is generally justified on the grounds that there are certain crimes under international law that affect the international community or mankind generally, such as genocide, terrorism, war crimes and torture. It is claimed that such jurisdiction signals that certain crimes are so heinous that they both threaten the international community and are condemned by it; it is in the interests of justice everywhere that perpetrators are brought to justice.1

Hence the Belgium national courts, for example, have claimed the right to pursue cases against Rwandans, Guatemalans, Israelis, and Congolese, among others, because the crimes in question are of international concern.

Sriram's work offers the most thorough account of...


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pp. 542-546
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