The Deterrent Effect of International Criminal Tribunals

The Deterrent Effect of International Criminal Tribunals


This project was based on a study of the deterrent effect of the International Criminal Court. An examination of several non-ICC situations, particularly where other tribunals have been active, provided a comparative perspective. In this regard, two countries under the jurisdiction of the ICTY (e.g. Serbia and Kosovo) as well as Sierra Leone and Rwanda were examined.

The "deterrent effect" of the ICC can be inferred from its ability to influence the behavior of various groups, including those criminally inclined, and thus prevent the commission of crimes. If deterrence is preventive, it may also be achieved through norm setting, in the strict sense, through adoption of national legislation that incorporates core international crimes into national law, and, in a wider sense, through social deterrence. Broadly speaking, the existence and operation of the ICC may instill a new societal ethos entailed in the knowledge that commission of international crimes carries the risk of prosecution. Moreover, it may cultivate respect for human rights, rule of law etc., and thus influence behavior of actors through the pressures exerted by public opinion about what is criminal or not, what is good or bad, or what is right or wrong.

In terms of "dimensions of deterrence" and by extension the target groups for the empirical part of the study, the study considered: those prosecuted (suspects, accused and the convicted); those similarly placed (e.g. politicians, rebels, businessmen, and ‘foot soldiers’ in situation countries); and the general public. The country studies discussed deterrence based on the procedural steps adopted in response to the ICC or the relevant tribunal. The papers also looked at the specific contexts, including the political events in situation countries, and established how messaging by anti-ICC forces (but also by pro-ICC forces) influence target groups’ perception of the ICC as a deterrent.

Findings and recommendations of the study can be found here (pdf).

Darleen Seda