The Problem with Trying Cases in UN-Sponsored Tribunes

After the capture of Saddam Hussein, a lot of the usual suspects began arguing that rather than try him in some U.S. military or Iraqi court, that instead he should be handed over to some sort of UN-sponsored international tribune like those who perpetrated the Rwandan and Yugoslavian genocides were.

In the case of the Rwandan genoicide, though, the United Nations tribune has turned into a classic case of justice delayed and denied. Here’s how the BBC described the attitudes of the Rwandan government — which has tried hundreds of peopel accuse of genocide itself — toward the UN tribunal,

Rwanda has expressed its anger at the tribunal’s lck of results in prosecuting the chief perpetrators of genocide, given the resources at their disposal.

Rwanda’s Attorney General Gerald Gahima said the tribunal has had little impact on Rwandans.

After spending over half a billion dollars and with more than 800 staff, the tribunal has achieved only 12 convictions in eight years.

That’s right — as of November, the UN tribunal was spending in excess of $40 million per conviction (that’s as much money as the per capita income for 160,000 people living in Rwanda). In fact from the start of the 1994 genocide, the United Nations has repeatedly acted, both intentionally and unintentionally, to benefit and protect those who carried out the genocide.

Nobody’s going to want to hand over those convicted of war crimes to the United Nations for trial until that organization proves it can effectively and efficiently try such crimes. At the moment, handing such individuals over to the UN makes about as much sense as it would be to ask Marcia Clark to step in to prosecute the Kobe Bryant case.


Rwandan leaders on genocide trial. The BBC, November 27, 2003.

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