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‘Legacy Talk’ at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Published on May 2, 2016        Author: 

As mentioned in Marko Milanovic’s recent post, the American Journal of International Law will soon publish a Symposium at the occasion of the closure of the ad hoc tribunals. Marko’s article considers the impact of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). We were asked to reflect upon the legacy and impact of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). An advance (original and longer) version is available here.

Before turning to the ICTR’s potential legacies, our article explores the ways in which the concept of “legacy” can be understood in the context of an international criminal tribunal. Although rarely defined and even less frequently theorised, the term has recently been much in vogue in international criminal law, so much so that Viviane Dittrich has observed a “legacy turn” within the field.  Even before it closed down, the ICTR dedicated human resources, a website and a video to publicise its legacy.

As the ICTR’s legacy website and video demonstrate, the Tribunal has made claims about its legacy in no uncertain terms. For instance, the video lists the Tribunal’s monumental contributions to international criminal law, but it also describes a much broader impact: “a record of legal reform in Rwanda, and outreach, education, legal training, and healing.” The narrator claims, “today in Rwanda, it’s safe to listen to the radio again: the sound is of a nation rebuilding.” Yet the film’s final words are not about Rwanda, but affirm “a world pushing forward despite great imperfection, each day closer to a time when international law offers justice to all people, everywhere.”

This rhetoric about one’s own legacy exemplifies what we call ‘legacy talk’. Unlike legacy planning, which concerns ensuring that there will be something to leave behind, legacy talk attempts to consolidate a set of interpretations about what is left. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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