[Mark A. Drumbl is the Class of 1975 Alumni Professor of Law and Director of the Transnational Law Institute at Washington and Lee University School of Law.]
This post is part of our symposium on the latest issue of the Leiden Journal of International Law. Other posts in this series can be found in the related posts below.
Darryl Robinson is among the most exciting thinkers currently engaged with international criminal law (ICL). In his latest piece, the subject of today’s discussion, he surveys the field. While much of academic work is given over to exploiting fissures and wedges, Darryl yearns for compatibilities. Ever the optimist, he searches for bridges and synergies.
Darryl – rightly, I think – notes that ICL’s roots lie in a teleological formalism. Motivated by the very human impulse to pursue accountability for the equally human impulse to inflict great harms, the formalists established the foundations and charted the territory. Celerity was the name of the game; time was of the essence. But making sense of the macabre isn’t easy, so the formalists soon had to contemplate instrumental short-cuts. One of these, as Darryl identifies, was to the principle of legality. Acting in the name of the law necessitated diluting the purity of the law. Retroactivity, duress, specific intent, and the causality of contribution became viewed as vaguely inconvenient instead of centrally constitutive.
These compromises, in turn, spawned a second wave of scholarship, which Darryl describes as the liberal critique. This critique recovered the value of legality for ICL. Its advisories, however, also risked rendering the system unworkable, too exigent, and somewhat unwieldy. This critique may have overemphasized general principles of law drawn from ordinary systems, rather than built lex specialis for violence in extremis.
A third critique then emerged, which Darryl portrays as the critique of the liberal critique. This critique – in which Darryl generously incudes my own efforts – intimates that the collective nature of atrocity is such that compromises to liberal legalism, while not necessarily justifiable, are eminently understandable. In this regard, the critique of the liberal critique could be seen as coming full circle and supporting the work, and the compromises, of the formalists. Alternately, the critique of the liberal critique could be seen as nihilistic – nothing works, so let’s do nothing. But neither caricature gets to the heart of the critique of the liberal critique. The focus of this critique is on methodology and ordinality, that is, questioning why the criminal law should be such a primadonna in the pursuit of post-conflict justice. This critique does not suggest inaction but, rather, exceeding present efforts and, in addition, working differently. This critique begins with an epistemological inquiry: from where do we know what we know about mass atrocity? It ends with an assumptive challenge: why is it, exactly, that we believe that the criminal law has so much to offer and yields such a high return on an at times astronomical investment?