Justice Systems and Crimes Against Humanity
Do you believe that the rule of law, transitional justice, and the international criminal court will prevent or reduce crime against humanity?

Do you believe that the rule of law, transitional justice, and the international criminal court will prevent or reduce crime against humanity?

In theory, the rule of law, transitional justice, and the international criminal court (ICC) have the best intentions to prevent or reduce crime against humanity. Practically, their purpose is better described as holding accountability for atrocities after the event(s).

justice systems and crimes against humanity

Rule of Law

At its most basic level, the rule of law is the concept that both the government and citizens know the law and obey it. The rule of law implies that the law is respected and understood by those involved.

However, when an individual commits and incites crimes against humanity, it indicates that the law is not a priority nor a concern for them.

The International Criminal Court (ICC)

​The International Criminal Court (ICC) investigates and, where warranted, tries individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.

The fact that the ICC prosecutes an individual for a culture of criminality leaves the majority of the perpetrators unaccounted for with regard to the ICC. The individual that does go on trial may live with a “dark cloud” over their head, but there is a community of followers that support their ethos and instruction. In many ways, these prosecuted individuals have served as a martyr to their ill-intended mission of atrocity. This is under the assumption that the individual even faces judgment from the ICC due to the highly selective, costly, and time-consuming process.

There are additional points worth considering, such as certain countries refusing to become a state party to the Rome Statute, such as the United States, and the rumors of prejudice against developing states, prompting countries to leave the statute, such as Burundi and the Philippines.

Transnational Justice

Transitional justice refers to how societies respond to the legacies of massive and serious human rights violations. It asks some of the most difficult questions in law, politics, and the social sciences and grapples with innumerable dilemmas. Above all, transitional justice is about victims.

In contrast, the Truth and Reconciliation model as a method of transitional justice does play a role in the prevention and reduction of crimes against humanity, at least within a specific setting where the community welcomes the opportunity. For example, the TRC played a critical role in South Africa’s transitional justice after apartheid, as the social transition was already underway after the abolishment of apartheid.

Justice Systems and Crimes Against Humanity

However, without adequate follow-up and proactive accountability for the new leaders in power, there are limitations to success. In South Africa, corrupt government, ineffective governance, and sustained economic inequality hinder the nation’s development and contribute to increased racial and political tension. One could argue that continued guidance and support for a fragile country post-conflict could have better facilitated the transition of power and assisted leadership.

In this example, the TRC fulfilled a single role in a highly complex process. Some research, such as Sebake’s work on the social perception of public service corruption in South Africa, suggests that crimes against humanity continue to be prevalent in the country, albeit to a different degree.

Perhaps the potential for the rule of law, transitional justice, and the ICC to prevent atrocities will grow in scale as the ICC plays the long game, the political world becomes more intertwined, and history reveals different lessons for the international community to adapt and apply. However, as it stands, the role is more of accountability than prevention.


  • Gideon Boas, William A. Schabas, & Michael P. Scharf. (2012). International Criminal Justice : Legitimacy and Coherence. Edward Elgar Publishing, (15) 
  •  Sebake, B. K. (2020). Crime Against Humanity: Social Perception of Public Service Corruption in South Africa. African Journal of Development Studies, 10(3), 167-167–188. doi: https://doi.org/10.31920/2634-3649/2020/10n3a9 
  •  Republic of the Philippines. (n.d.). International Criminal Court. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from https://www.icc-cpi.int/philippines 
  •  What’s Next for Africa and the International Criminal Court | Africa Center for Strategic Studies. (2017, December 7). Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from https://africacenter.org/spotlight/whats-next-africa-international-criminal-court-icc/