International justice: punishment or preparing for the future?



International justice steps in when serious crimes are committed against a portion of a country's population.

Frédéric Mégret, a researcher with the McGill University Faculty of Law, is interested in the contrast between two approaches to international justice: on the one hand, the desire to punish those responsible for crimes (international criminal justice), which may take the form of an international criminal tribunal (ICT) such as those established for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone; on the other hand, the need to ensure the transition to societal stability (transitional justice).

The international criminal justice can undermine the transition process in societies plagued by extreme political and social difficulties.

After the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, rather than calling for an ICT, the government set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission whose goal was to reveal the truth about the human rights violations committed since 1960, and to facilitate reconciliation between the black majority and the white minority. Frédéric Mégret's work shows that international criminal justice can undermine the transition process in societies plagued by extreme political and social difficulties.

This type of inflexible punishment-based justice can add fuel to the fire and reignite conflict, and may present a reductive view of history. In contrast, transitional justice takes reconciliation efforts into consideration and focuses on the need to reach a compromise between the victims and their former persecutors.

Frédéric Mégret has published articles on his research in Observateur des Nations Unies, the Journal of International Law, Annuaire français de relations internationales, the Brooklyn Journal of International Law, the International Review of Victimology and the Buffalo Human Rights Law Review. He has also presented the results of his work in Paris and Montréal.