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Cosmopolitanism and the Need for Transnational Criminal Justice: The Case of the International Criminal Court

Patrick Hayden


Writing in the aftermath of Adolf Eichmann’s dramatic prosecution in

1961 for his role in the Nazi genocide, Hannah Arendt suggested that

the ‘need for a [permanent] international criminal court was imperative’

(Arendt 1963: 270). For Arendt, Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem

symbolized the unfortunate triumph of national interests over the

demands of universal justice. In Arendt’s analysis, the Eichmann trial

was flawed for a number of reasons, most notably because the Israeli

government rejected the possibility of establishing an international

criminal tribunal, claiming for itself the competence and jurisdiction

for trying Eichmann. In the end, Arendt notes, the failure of the Israeli

court consisted of the fact that it represented ‘one nation only’ and

misunderstood Eichmann’s crimes as being inherently against the

Jewish people rather than against humanity itself, that is, ‘against the

human status’ (Arendt 1963: 268-270). As the subsequent occurrence

of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes in countries as diverse

as Cambodia, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and East Timor starkly

testifies, the relevance of a permanent international criminal court to

contemporary world politics and international relations is undiminished

more than 40 years after the Eichmann trial.

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