Relativising Atrocity Crimes: The Message of Unconditional Early Release of Perpetrators Convicted by the ICTY (1998 – 2018)

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Despite being found guilty of egregious acts, crimes against humanity and war crimes, 54 of the 90 perpetrators sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) were granted unconditional early release (UER). This article argues that UER did a disservice to two principal expressive purposes of punishment - moral condemnation of the crimes and the overall norm projected by the ICTY, the “universal repugnance of group-based killing” (Drumbl). Fundamentally, punishment of perpetrators signifies the inherent worth of victims. Interviews with key stakeholders in Bosnia and Herzegovina revealed that the interviewees largely concurred with authors who posit that punitive justice conveys valuable messages to audiences. This article complements expressivist theories by demonstrating the extent to which expressivism was negated as perpetrators were granted UER. Finally, it proposes how early release in future tribunals and courts might be tailored to counter the negation of international criminal justice’s expressive value.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-96
Number of pages30
JournalInternational Criminal Law Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 8 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2021.


  • atrocity crimes
  • ICTY
  • expressivism
  • remorse
  • unconditional early release
  • victims
  • Law
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Atrocity crimes
  • Remorse
  • Victims
  • Expressivism
  • International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (icty)
  • Unconditional early release


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