Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Global Justice

pp 284-287

Duty to Prosecute

  • Kenneth A. RodmanAffiliated withDepartment of Government, Colby College

The “duty to prosecute” refers to the claim by proponents of international criminal justice that the international community has a moral and legal obligation to investigate and punish the most serious abuses of human rights in the aftermath of war or repressive rule. Conversely, it challenges the legitimacy of amnesties and non-retributive forms of transitional justice for perpetrators of such crimes. The duty has its origins in (a) international treaties that have codified a universal recognition of core crimes for which prosecution is mandated, and (b) the international human rights law which creates for victims a nonnegotiable right of redress for the wrongs done to them. The argument has been challenged primarily on consequentialist grounds – that is, that strictly demanding prosecution might prolong a war, dissuade a dictator from stepping down, or generate a violent backlash against transitions to democracy or peace.

The phrase “duty to prosecute” was originally used by the legal ...

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