Despite, or perhaps because of its temporary run, the Nuremberg trials are celebrated for their efficacy in prosecuting WWII war criminals whose crimes against human rights crossed borders. Since the victors of WWII did not contend the jurisdiction of the Nuremberg tribunal, the tribunal was endowed to punish criminals as the judges sitting upon it saw fit. It was much more powerful (and threatening) than the truth committees that have arisen from its shadow.

The truth tribunals of the late twentieth century are quarantined in their search of the “truth” to developing countries, and  those with neutral or strained relationships with the US. Although poor court maintenance makes the tribunals direly needed to record and begin a reparation process in developing countries, it is highly problematic that the international community is not willing to convict war criminals among high-ranking US officials or from other powerful countries.

When the US constantly threatens to pull funding from the UN when hawkish officials are called out of the Oval Office to the testimonial booth, the puppet strings of the international judicial structure (built upon US funding) becomes more apparent. The reality of blooming human right zeal contends with the practicalities of super-countries adjusting rules on jurisdiction to benefit them.

Similar to Belgium changing its 2003 war criminal arrest law when Tony Blair and George Bush took offense to being indicted for war crimes[1], the UK also changed war crime law when Israeli official Tzipi Livni decided not to make a trip to the Big Ben when she was issued with an arrest warrant for war crimes in Gaza in 2009.[2]

A true international court that Hannah Arendt and many other human rights activists envisioned has come to be but has also fallen short in many ways. Even if it is unlikely, and perhaps even unwise to demand hypersensitive super-countries shoulder accountability for their negligence and/ or intentional human rights crimes, it is important to recognize the damage done as countries change laws to keep the peace. The trend of appeasment begins to look darkly familiar.

Human rights have captured the world and there are other geographic locations that conduct their own human rights venues. Instead of a top-down structure, it would be beneficial for all for these human-right start-ups to start a coalition. Everything from technology to consumerism has been deconstructed to have a lateral base as we’ve entered the 21st century. Protesting always has been. Tribunals can be laterally structured as well, and international in a similar way.

Furthermore, It is just as important to disseminate news through non-Western venues that value objectivity but aren’t afraid to publish their version of the truth, like Al-Jazeera, for instance.


[1] Buck, Tobias. Belgium decides to repeal controversial war crimes law. The Financial Times. July 14, 2003.


[2] Pitel, Laura. Israeli visit will test arrest laws. The Times (London). Oct. 4, 2011.


(South African War Tribunal picture courtesy of

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa created in 1995 established a new paradigm for reparative justice that contrasted greatly with the Nuremburg trials. In Nuremburg, the victors of WWII historically addressed human right violations as an international community, as survivors of genocide and war atrocities were given a stage to tell their stories, and the suited men who wrote off the war mechanisms that crushed their lives were sentenced to death.

The Truth committees established towards the end of the twentieth century were asked to deliver the same cathartic trial, but for crimes that had been institutionalized in hundreds of years of colonialism. The common demonization of justice, war crimes investigator Richard Goldstone noted in “For Humanity” was what war victims, and even civil warring post-colonial factions, desired most.

But where justice is commonly seen as the death of the murderer, the Truth committees were ultimately created to find “truth” and corresponding facts–the committees were willing to offer amnesty to apartheid leaders like FW de Klerk if they were willing to provide information under that condition.

The committees were instrumental in creating a paradigm tribunal to process through the layers of institutionalized racial law typically rooted back in European colonization, but remain controversial in the affect they have on appropriating justice. The tribunals, war reporter John Richard Pilger criticized, brought to life a new form of multi-cultural capitalism as world politics and larger forces of globalized racism and classism factored into proceedings.

Ariel Dorfman expresses a similar discontent with the efficacy of the truth tribunals in “Death and the Maiden,” set in Chile just turning the page on a dictorial regime. The victimized protagonist, Paulina, who was abducted during the civil strife, comes face to face with the torturer when he toes her husband, Gerardo who gets stranded with flat tire on the road back home.

Gerardo invites Miranda to stay the night, during which Paulina ties him to a chair and digs through his car for evidence to corroborate her accusations. She finds a tape of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” that was played during her torture sessions.

Both men are scared of wrath of the gun-wielding Paulina, and decide that confessing would allow Miranda to escape with his life. The play holds up the raw emotion of the victim, and the complexities of meting out the death sentence on an criminal individual who is not idiosyncratic, but one of many.

Goldstone evokes the play in his text “In Humanity” to exemplify the insurmountable feelings a human rights tribunal brings to the surface. Miranda deserves to be dealt with as a criminal, but the dictatorship that created him cannot be put on trial. As human rights abuses continue to soar in the Middle East and is pronounced in developing countries, a global effort is needed if not to adequately address the human right violations, to listen to them.

As Paulina, Gerardo and Miranda (or his ghost) sit in the music hall as the curtain lifts to mirror, maybe the truth tribunals can have a similar post-modern moment and recognize their own politicized constraints, and count the strings that would them to even consider removing allegations of criminals like Klerk upon his request from their final report, as they did.

Eichmann trail, Jerusalam

Milosevic Trial, Hague

The conflict in districts of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Kosovo, that arose in the 90’s has all but faded from popular culture in America. Despite incorrect NATO intelligence that led to wrongful bombings of civilian institutions in Kosovo, and media controversy that the bombs were dropped to distract Americans from the Monica Lewinski scandal, NATO and the US were not forced to take accountability for their action by the international community.

The conflict that resulted in an attempted ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims and the massacre of thousands of “ethnic” Bosnians has come to symbolize continued racialized warfare. The systemized rape and concentration camps instituted in Bosnia reflect conditions of German concentration camps to an extent. Hannah Arendt who wrote Eichmann in Jerusalem  to critique the national legal infrastructure created to deal with war criminals said the Holocaust was no German phenomenon and could happen again. She suggested that an international court be created to protect  ethnic minorities who were vulnerable in nation’s that did not protect their civil rights and encouraged they be singled for discrimination.

According to Arendt, the Holocaust did not really blast American print headlines until some decade  after the end of WWII; but a similar resurrection of the atrocities in the Yugoslavian conflicts have yet to happen.  But Tim Judah attempts a similar Eichman-style psycho analysis in “The Star of the Hague.” Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian presiedent at the vanguard of the military assaults on non-Serbian demographics in Yugoslavia, is suave in court and parries witness’ accounts of war atrocities.

Where Arendt constructs  a microcosmic narrative of Eichmann’s “banality” to depict the bureaucracy of a racist and totalitarian nation,  Milosevic is not a ranking official but the very head of the Serbian aggression. Eichmann is sentenced, has his repentance recorded and is then executed. Milosevic dies in a lingering trial  in its fifth year. Standing in for his own defense, Milosevic reads from German political reports that indicate Germany’s intention of destroying Serbia. In defending his military aggression up to his death, it is the voice of Milosevic that overshadows that the Hague trial, not the tragic stories of the victims. In Eichmann’s silence behind the glass of his testimonial booth, the reader can hear the packed and unhygenically loaded trains approaching the the gates of Auschwitz.

But instead of discounting Milosevic’s trial which did not result in a world-resounding verdict (and in fact ultimately shoveled dirt on subsequent global media attention to re-examine the war) it is urgently necessary to demand that war criminals be held formally accountable.

It should be recounted that Eichmann was caught 17 years after his war crimes and convicted in what Arendt classifies as a staged trial where his death is eminent  from the minute he is brought to Jerusalem. Where international war criminals have done enough to brutalize and terrorize mass amounts of people, it is still necessary for them to be held formally accountable. Justice must to be written and decided collectively so it doesn’t fade. Keeping it between the lips of national leaders keeps it away from the ears of those who have suffered.

 (Journalist Iris Chang)
“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people,” said Mahatma Gandhi.

After being devastated in WWII, Japan did more than rebuild infrastructure and business ties; it found ways to deal with the media damage that arose when its military atrocities–particularly the Massacre of Nanking where over 20,000 women were raped and sexually assaulted to death–found headline in the international stage.

The only country to endure the devastation of an atomic bomb, Japan, mulled in popular 90’s animated movies like “The Grave of the Fireflies” and “Barefoot Gen” about the anti-war sentiment that ran throughout segments of the country. While these movies celebrate peace and healing, and portray Japanese victims of the war, the atrocities committed by the imperial army are not examined, nor is accountability fulfilled

The massacre resides jauntily in the nation’s consciousness. Like other sovereign countries, Japan kept the spotlight within national borders, and Japanese sentimentality. Some citizenry became apologists, while others denied the massacre had ever happened. Despite a verbal apology given 40 years after the war ended to China, the Japanese government’s prime ministers continue to pay homage to the Yasukuni Shrine erected for dead Japanese soldiers in the war.

Although comparatively horrible atrocities have occurred around the world, systematically in countries colonized, for instance–the Belgium’s arm chopping the Congo, the dismemberment of Indians by Columbus’s troops (as noted by historian Howard Zinn)–the “rape of Nanking” became pivotal to the development of Chinese identity and Japan’s culture of re-appropriating the value of the gruesome reports and not international water under the bridge.

The “value” of the atrocities became negotiable. The massacre was initially devalued by Japan because it could not be recounted by accounts other than personal testimony and second hand reporting. But that was enough to make the world dwell on the brutality on the Japanese imperial army. A graphic article in LIFE made the world hold breath, and experience what an atrocity was. It wasn’t an issue that politicians could barter with as yet. It was too graphic, and if acknowledged by Japanese politicians would leave a similar stain like the Holocaust on Germany.

As we’ve examined in this class, countries that have committed atrocities don’t actively reconcile with their victim country/ people. In the essence of nationalism where the nation and its people come first, international events are twisted to serve national agendas. Although international condemnation forced Japan to recognize the massacre it committed in Nanking, it could not force the “nation’s culture” to truly grapple with the implications of a massacre as the Chinese were forced to do.

Over the course of this semester we have spent some time talking about the United States’ approach to international justice. Although there is no doubt that the U.S is an important actor in the international justice system, some of its positions have been seen as prime examples of hypocrisy. One of our guest speakers, Jennifer …

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As the new President of East Timor (Timor-Leste) prepares to be sworn in on Saturday, old questions remain regarding the need for accountability for Indonesian abuses from 1975 to 1999. An article released today from Radio Netherlands Worldwide explores the split amongst the East Timorese people between pushing for prosecutions and forgetting the past. The …

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