Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



Hindsight always appears better than foresight. Hopefully, the reexamination of past events will provide lessons for the future. Recent media reports have analyzed the genocide in Rwanda and blamed France, the United States, and the UN Security Council for their failures to take steps that might have prevented or stopped the atrocities. Academic studies also argue how the atrocities in Chechnya, Kosovo, and East Timor may have been prevented or stopped by the United Nations or others in the international community. Such analyses are for international relations authorities and military experts. As an international lawyer, I am reluctant to tread in those domains. For me, the question is whether changes in international law might modify the behavior of major international actors such as states, intergovernmental organizations, and nongovernmental organizations. In the future, they might be better prepared if situations like Chechnya, Kosovo, or East Timor were to arise. Certainly, there is no lack of international law condemning the atrocities that took place in those territories. The existence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)--with authority to prosecute persons who committed international crimes in Kosovo--did not appear to deter Slobodan Milosevic and his supporters in their drive to crush the Kosovo independence movement and ethnically cleanse the region. No international criminal tribunal had jurisdiction over the Russian actions in Chechnya. While some hope that the establishment of the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) will deter the commission of international crimes, its efficacy remains unproven. Samuel Huntington might chalk these events up to the inevitable clashes of civilizations during the "multipolar and multicivilizational" period he argues we have entered. While fate may be on the side of continuing and escalating conflicts of this nature, it is incumbent upon us to seek ways to minimize or eliminate recurrences of these events anywhere in the world.