Liberal international criminal law and legal memory: deconstructing the production of witness memories at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

by Benjamin Thorne

25 May 2021
Journal of the British Academy
Digital Object Identifier
Number of pages
28 (pp. 127-154)

Abstract: International criminal tribunals and courts, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), are commonly understood within legal transitional justice scholarship as the primary response to mass human rights violations, not only in addressing impunity, but also in uncovering the truth of what happened and why. This conceptually orientated article aims to deconstruct legal witnessing and memory production at the ICTR in order to critique claims in legal scholarship that international criminal institutions are able to produce a collective memory of mass rights violations. Specifically, the article proposes an original conceptual framework using insights from critical theory, Giorgio Agamben (witness) and Paul Ricoeur (memory), which it is argued extends our understanding of the scope, and limitations, of liberal Western criminal institutions’ (in)ability to make sense of past atrocities.

Keywords: International criminal institutions, critical theory, legal memory construction.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 9, supplementary issue 2 (Transitional Justice Discourse in Post-Conflict Societies in Africa).

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