Retributive Approaches to Justice

Mark Amstutz

A Professor at Wheaton College

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: What about the idea that if you don't prosecute people that have committed criminal acts, that in some way you're condoning those acts or preventing that it will happen again somewhere else? The argument that someone in power in another place will not do the horrific crimes that other leaders have done because they have seen the effect of the prosecution that they've had?

A: Well I am against crime, I think anyone who commits an offense should be prosecuted, but it just seems to me, however, that take the trial of Milosevic, which is now in its fourth year and has cost over $250 million. Surely when this trial ends, maybe there will be a sense of victory for some people, in the meantime however the common Serbian who suffered under Milosevic, the people in Bosnia or Kosovo who suffered from the decisions of Milosevic, their lives have been made no better. I think retributive justice internationally, or trans-nationally, or systemically, is a little different that retributive justice in a place like Boulder, Colorado where, if there is a crime, it's really critical to do that. When you have people who have been involved in conflicts, I think it becomes -- I don't want to say counterproductive, but I don't think you want to put all your energy in that. Maybe there isn't a way to but if there is a way to keep Milosevic incarcerated and in a quiet place, let's do it that way, but it seems to me to have a major trial with all the publicity, and this has been going on now for four years, Milosevic has continued to manipulate the process. The same thing is true for the Arusha Trials.

Q: In Burundi and Rwanda.

A: Yes the Arusha in Tanzania regarding the Rwandan genocide. It's not that I'm against that; I just think it's far better for the people themselves to try to reconstruct and move on. I've not been to Rwanda, but certainly the Rwandan people are not all that excited about the Arusha Trials. The big challenge in Rwanda is that there are people who live in a neighborhood where they know that this person two blocks down the street was responsible for the killings of their loved ones. The question is, has the international community come to assist those people in how to reconstruct their lives? And it seems to me that what happens is that we get focused on trials and we tend to underestimate the other. I'm really interested not so much in punishment but really in prevention. The great challenge is to make sure that wrong-doing is not repeated and that we send a message loudly and clearly that if you do, you will be held accountable, but not necessarily in a long, three-, four-, or five-year trial that is to nobody's advantage.