by Yooree Lee, Australia
‘I’m having a cynical day today’, is what I jotted down in my notepad as I sat down to listen to those working within the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. And it soon became evident that I was not alone. The group quickly assumed a critical position, posing difficult questions to the Office of the Prosecutor speaker while raising eyebrows when responses were not satisfactory. The value of the Tribunal’s contribution to the pursuit of truth and to the finding of facts surrounding the assassination of Hariri was diminished within this mindset.
As the day resumed, skepticism coloured the discussions – formal and informal – that took place among future peacemakers: the dangers of perceived ‘selective justice’; the legitimacy of the court; the drawbacks of in absentia trials; the power politics that inevitably accompany the proceedings within a multi-player, international institution which seeks to achieve international justice. The speaker from the Defence Office added to the critical default position as he offered realist views of international justice. The Security Council was characterized as ‘king of the world’, international tribunals as ivory towers and mere instruments in global politics. He urged us not to assume international justice had any deterrent impact.
Despite such a pragmatic view however, representatives from opposite sides of the trial argued that doing nothing is not an option. Whilst they recognized that international law is plagued with problems and is frequently shaped by the will of political passions, it is a young and evolving creature. Doing nothing may be more detrimental. When asked later how he could still participate in a system that he viewed as ridden with shortcomings, the Defence Office speaker offered a reply by referring to his personal philosophy – the value of contributing to change from the inside in his own, small capacity, over continuing to criticize it from the outside.
A discussion filled with rhetorical criticisms of points already considered by scholars who have come before us, and through the prisms that we each are most comfortable with, is self- serving and produces very little results. Action, though flawed and constrained by an imperfect system, will ultimately do more good than harm. While there is no denying the value of critical thinking, to start at the point of cynicism is detrimental to reform and the potential for more meaningful considerations of how we as individuals can work within the existing system to change it for the better. With this in mind, I walked out of the Tribunal that afternoon with a new lens through which to view the international justice system and my potential role within it, healthy dose of cynicism intact.