The year 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute that led to the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002. Although initially carried into existence on a wave of humanitarian enthusiasm, the ICC has been highly controversial more or less from the beginning. One of the key battlegrounds in this longstanding dispute over the Court’s legitimacy has been the issue of deterrence. The conjecture that a properly structured and functioning ICC would be able to deter mass atrocities has always figured prominently among the Court’s proponents. For almost as long, however, these claims have been vehemently countered by critics arguing that the notion of deterrence in international criminal justice is as unsubstantiated as it is naïve.
Over the last two decades, both proponents and critics have persistently challenged each other’s claims presenting new and ever more sophisticated arguments from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. As this lively debate is about to enter its third decade, now seems an opportune time to take stock of this growing body of scholarship. Not least in light of a number of recent developments that might be expected to have an impact on the prospects of deterrence in international criminal justice:
- The activation of the crime of aggression: From 17 July 2018, the ICC will finally be able to exercise jurisdiction regarding the crime of aggression. Politicians that initiate unjust wars will soon be liable for criminal charges. What if any effect will this have on the ability of the ICC to deter mass atrocity?
- The changing landscape of international criminal courts: The ICC is not fighting international crimes alone, but with the closure of the ICTR and the ICTY as well as the increasing number of hybrid criminal courts, the institutional landscape is changing. Do other criminal courts magnify the deterrence potential of the ICC, or can their competition harm the greater cause of preventing international crimes?
- Geopolitics: The US is slowly receding from its role as world cop and other global powers are entering this vacuum. Can the ICC cope with this, and other, geopolitical changes while continuing to serve as a deterrent?
Against this background, this conference seeks to bring together leading scholars from a broad range of disciplinary perspectives. The aim is not only to take stock but also to qualify and expand the ongoing conversation about the deterrent effect of ICTs with a view to the future of the entire system of international criminal justice.
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