What Price Justice?
That’s not the case in Muslim tribal societies, at least when homicide is committed in inter- or intra-tribal disputes. The customary way of settling securing justice is through the payment of bloodmoney (diya). A big task of the arbitrator in such a case is putting the price on the human life that has been taken. Islamic Law is a guide but not a final determinant.
Justice (adala) demands more than obtaining the procedurally perfect criminal conviction (or acquittal). Justice ranges from payment of compensation or bloodmoney to fixing the entire socio-political system. All of which have a price.
One of Adam Smith’s points in his book, After Genocide: Bringing the Devil to Justice, is that international justice is expensive. That’s an understatement. Perhaps, having decided that justice should not be subject to monetary calculus, the lawyers whose business is international justice accidentally added a zero or two to their fees, so inattentive are they to numbers. Or, just possibly, could there be an iota of self-interest at work?
Smith informs us that for the same amount as the budget of the ICTY in 2006/07 (nearly $280 million), a Sarajevo law student said: “the entire judicial system of the Balkans could have been reconstructed.” (p. 25) Later, Smith is more precise: the Sarajevo war crimes court house and two years of its operation cost $16 million, which is equal to one month’s work in The Hague (p. 335) Smith calculates that the international justice system achieves five convictions per year at a cost of $20 million each. He adds, “By some measures, this renders it the least efficient prosecutorial system in the history of recorded justice.” (p. 47) Value for money? I think not.
But the people who promote international justice have a lot of clout. A lot more clout than the people in whose name they practice. Smith describes how on the tenth anniversary of the Srebenica massacre, local people who had lost relatives and friends in the massacre were stuck in a ten-mile traffic jam while international dignitaries in their escorted cars got pride of place, overtaking the queue to attend the ceremony.
International justice may be “right,” but does it work? Smith describes so many problems with the system that one wonders why anyone thought it was a good idea in the first place. He asks, “How many of these concerns are a function of the growing pains associated with the rebirth of international criminal justice and how many are intrinsic to the international imposition of criminal justice?” (p. 196) It’s pretty clear he thinks the latter.
Closer to home, in Africa, Smith suggests that the international justice system’s obsession with criminal trials is at variance with African ideas of justice that give a bigger role to reconciliation and forgiveness. There is more than a germ of truth in this. Smith describes a chief in Sierre Leone saying he cannot disown the perpetrators of crimes who are part of his wider community, and must forgive them. (p. 42) This sentiment is widespread, and Smith rhetorically asks, “Is it the task of an international court to tell them they are wrong, that they need “˜justice’ against the brothers they have welcomed back into their fold?”
Still closer to home, in Sudan, Smith makes the elementary point that there is no prospect of international justice while the Sudan government rejects it. But, he observes, as soon as it lifts its objection, trials are best held in Sudan.