Theodor Meron contemplates future of international law tribunals in lecture at NYU Law

In a talk on October 22, Judge Theodor Meron, Charles L. Denison Professor of Law Emeritus and Judicial Fellow, discussed the future of international law and his role as president of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. He began in that position in February after being appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, with input from the U.N. Security Council’s president and the Mechanism’s judges. Meron is president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and presides over the Appeals Chambers of both the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The Mechanism is taking over the ICTR’s work as that body ends, and will assume the remainder of the ICTY’s cases when it finishes its work. 
 
Theodor Meron“This has been an incredible and magical 20 years for international criminal justice,” said Meron. “Twenty years ago we had nothing.... However, I’m worried about the future of international criminal justice. I’m worried because there is in the United Nations what I call a strong tribunal fatigue. The tribunals have been costly, trials have been long, countries, governments, finance ministries are tired of us. They think that we could have been more efficient, faster, saved more money. It may very well be that in a few years we will have only the International Criminal Court.” Meron warned against such a scenario; if a future case could not reasonably be referred by the Security Council to the ICC for political or other reasons, no alternative venues would exist. But, he said, the creation of the new Mechanism was encouraging.
 
Meron described the “nuts and bolts” of the ICTY and ICTR in his talk, calling the first international criminal tribunal to be formed since the Nuremberg Trials a pioneer. The ICTY is also, he said, the first truly international tribunal (Nuremberg was an occupation court), the first to apply customary international law repeatedly to multiple cases, and the first to demonstrate that even heads of state can be tried for the gravest of crimes. Meron expressed pride that the ICTY had an “unbelievable record” of enforcement, having no outstanding fugitives among its 161 indictees.
 
He also touched on his role as president, explaining that after being elected by one’s peers, the president presides ex officio over appeals chamber hearings, coordinates the work of the chamber, and determines the composition of benches, among other essential functions.
 
Later that week, Meron delivered a keynote address on international criminal tribunals at the 91st annual meeting of the American Branch of the International Law Association. NYU Law faculty José Alvarez, Jerome Cohen, Dale Jamieson, and Linda Silberman participated in academic panels, as did Ira Belkin ’82, executive director of the Law School’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute; Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese legal activist who made international headlines earlier this year when he left China and came to New York to study at NYU Law; and Dorchen Leidholdt ’88, the director of Sanctuary for Families’ Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services.

Posted on November 26, 2012

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