Antoine Garapon

Crimes Which Can Neither be Punished Nor Forgiven Towards an International Justice Publication date : November 1, 2002

The creation of a system of international criminal justice was one of the greatest political upheavals of recent decades. It all began with the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, later followed by those of Klaus Barbie, Paul Touvier and Maurice Papon. The end of the cold war led to an increase in the number of hearings. A landmark was the March 1999 lifting of General Pinochet’s impunity for crimes against humanity, regarded by some as a major breach of national sovereignty, and by others as a victory in the struggle for human rights. Two months later, while still in office, a head of state was charged by an international tribunal. His trial opened in October 2001 at the new International Criminal Court in The Hague. Much in the present situation is unprecedented. The fact that international criminal law has been allowed to question national sovereignty is a revolution in itself. The State, traditionally the prosecutor, has suddenly found itself on trial, thus upsetting the rules of criminal as well as of international law. Perhaps the experience of evil, both during World War II and more recently, has altered the meaning of justice, as well as what we expect from it. It remains to be seen if the legal system will be able to live up to these new expectations, without betraying itself. The pitfall would be to believe that justice is all-powerful and that legal decisions have the power to ensure peace and appease victims’ suffering — i.e. to practically guarantee happiness in the future. The detractors of “international justice” contend that it is simply the “justice of the victors”. Could they be right? Have law and ethics been muddled? In order to move beyond the clash between naive enthusiasm and bitter cynicism, it is necessary to confront the results obtained by this emerging form of justice with its designs: What has it really contributed to the reconstruction of peace? Have the trials conducted in its name helped heal the victims? Can justice prevent civil war? In this book, Antoine Garapon carries on the deep, acute examination of the role of justice in democracies, which he had already undertaken in Le Gardien des promesses.

A former magistrate, Antoine Garapon heads the Institut des hautes études sur la justice and is one of the editors of the French magazine Esprit. He is the author of Le Gardien des promesses: Justice et démocratie and Bien juger: Essai sur le rituel judiciaire and the co-author, with F. Gross and T. Pech, of Et ce sera justice: Punir en démocratie.