Global Justice: The Politics of War Crimes Trials
Reviewer: David Erkomaishvili (Metropolitan University Prague)
- Publisher: Stanford University Press, 2008
- ISBN: 9780804759717
- Available at: Amazon
- Author's page: Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu
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Judge: ‘Are you Saddam Hussein?’
Saddam Hussein: ‘Yes, I am Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq …
current, present, chosen by people. Who are you?’
This effective dialogue transcript between a judge and the former Iraqi dictator Hussein is part of a chapter revealing the latter’s war crimes trial. Moghalu’s work entitled: Global Justice: The Politics of War Crimes Trials, does not commence with this dialogue – thus centring the work exclusively on the practical side of such trials – but rather delves deep into the theoretical and philosophical origins of modern war crimes trials which find their roots in Nuremberg and Tokyo – the controversial trial of Emperor Hirohito – and shows the thread that links them to more recent trials such as the case of (former) Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Moghalu explores the nature of international criminal prosecution. In doing so, he does not limit himself by detailing legal processes but explains the core issues and contrasts globalisation with sovereignty; in some ways two opposing fixtures.
Moghalu takes the reader on a historic journey of the international criminal prosecution system, explaining how it was formed from the ashes of World War II together with its evolution in the new international order. Importantly, his detailed review of the post-Cold War era demonstrates how the wreckage of the Cold War system affected international justice and how globalisation and diplomacy contributed to this process. Finally, Moghalu reveals how vulnerable justice is in war and how it could be dependent on politicians and the ambitions of states. Moghalu sets himself clear boundaries of the book’s target audience; broad, not limited to scholars and field practitioners as his research of Hussein’s, Milosevic’s and Taylor’s trial’s also effectively highlight the picture of civilian reactions in related states to those trials revealing nuances of international justice-making.
A common characteristic of most of war crimes tribunals is their controversial nature. One of the most striking accounts is based on the US involvement in the Hirohito trial. Moghalu goes back in history to expose the deep commitment of the US to hold Japan’s Emperor ‘not guilty’ of war crimes committed by Japanese forces during World War II. In fact, Moghalu demonstrates the origins of command responsibility for war crimes which were rooted in post-World War II trials. The US was the key power in the Pacific at that time, and its patronage of Japan’s emperor during the trial, and the methods it deployed, allowed it to secure Japan from a potential communist takeover and gain a strategic ally during the Cold War. However, such a policy affected the trial’s outcome and thus the impartiality of justice.
The book traces the origins of humanitarian law and exhibits political reasons behind the concept of ‘universal justice.’ Moghalu provides a very detailed account of what universal justice consists of and whether it really is so ‘universal.’ For instance Moghalu convincingly argues that high seas piracy is a place where justice is universal and supports his position with the example of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which instructs any country to combat piracy in any place outside the jurisdiction of any state and giving it a carte blanche in dealing with pirates as enemies of the human race. Moghalu links up the concept of universal jurisdiction with the international legal principle of jus cogens – a norm of no derogation.
To illustrate the emergence of a framework of international law, Moghalu suggests a very interesting perspective on the origins of the treaties and key conventions, which now regulates the international system and humanitarian issues.
Moghalu takes readers into origins of various problems emerging during the war crimes trials and explains why such problems might have had the possibility to emerge. One of such accounts is the origin of conflict in former republic of Yugoslavia. State’s break up, Serbia´s response, the reaction of the international society, international organisations and finally the trial of Slobodan Milosevic – all these events are described on several pages providing a detailed depiction.
Each case of war crimes trials, which the book researches, has a chain of ‘behind the scenes’ negotiations between great powers or powerful actors that influenced the decisions of the courts to a certain degree. For instance, the controversial US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and even more controversial trial of Saddam Hussein, which the author calls ‘mixture of law, politics and strategy.’ He contends that Hussein’s trial is not as much about justice as it was about policy – justice as strategy. As for the invasion, the book presents an interesting legal standpoint, with the focus on legal elements – like the right of state to wage defensive war without authorisation of the Security Council – of preparation of the US administration to use force in Iraq.
Moghalu builds his arguments from the position of the so-called English School. He explains why such a sensitive topic as war crimes trials should be best researched through the realist perspective of the English School – that is to say, due to the notion of international community which the English School advocates. The author contends that the international community is what that shaped the system of international law. Later on this position helps explain the problems of universality of justice. In the depicted casework, not only are specific details affected the outcomes of trials presented, but international justice itself, provided it with duality. The triumph or failure of international justice depends on secondary, specific nuances of each case, and as the author argues – war crimes tribunals are ‘inherently imperfect.’ The author contends that politics and justice are inextricably linked together.
This book is recommended for a wide range of readers as an interpretation of legal aspects of international politics in a more public manner. Definitely a ‘must have’ piece in the library of scholars and specialists researching the field of international relations, especially those who are not majoring in international law and justice, as the work provides a solid introduction to the field. This book is excellent contribution to the field from a scholar who ‘at the frontlines of international law policy and diplomacy.’