Review of Atrocity, Punishment, and International Law by Mark Drumbl

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Book Review

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Baker, Voorhis & Co. for the American Society of International Law




This brief review of Mark Drumbl's recent work, Atrocity, Punishment, and International Law (2007), explains the author's project and how it fits into the contemporary literature on international criminal law. Marked by prodigious research and rigorous interdisciplinary analysis, Drumbl persuasively critiques the predilection for ICL as the default response to mass atrocity; offers cautionary lessons about the limits and dangers of ICL; and provides an original argument for a more pluralistic, cosmopolitan response to mass atrocity that welcomes diverse, in situ justice modalities, subject to prudent qualifications. I think that he tends to be overly optimistic about those modalities and that the indigenous traditions to which he recommends qualified deference will in practice prove more problematic and subject to abuse than he sometimes seems to suppose. Also, reflection on the penological issues raised by ICL in the strict sense will require more precise and methodical analytic distinctions before they can be genuinely helpful to the ICL sentencing process. But above all, I think, Drumbl's work suggests the limits of ex post legal responses to mass atrocity generally rather than of ICL in particular. ICL's principal goal should be to contribute to a normative climate sufficient to compel genuinely effective international legal responses to prevent or forestall mass atrocity - so that retrospective transitional justice of any sort will be understood as the moral failure it so often reflects.

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