A Cage Went in Search of a Bird: On the Politics of Condemnation, Compensation and Convalescence

Thijs B. Bouwknegt, Bart Nauta

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review


What happens to people who are accused of atrocity crimes at the bar of public opinion, are publicly indicted, prosecuted, tried, acquitted of criminal charges and then released? Does the mud stick? Or can the dirt also turn into gold, after legal exoneration and possible compensation? This article seeks to trigger a conversation on the international justice community’s stance on condemnation, compensation and convalescence. Through several versatile histories and stories, it gauges how exonerated persons have been navigating life after acquittal. To what extent have they managed to reverse, or recover from, their previous scandalizations, and if so: how? In thinking about this question, we problematize international justice community protagonists and prosecution services’ modus operandi (and effects) of scandalizing first and prosecuting alleged atrocitaires later. We observe that under the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s current circumstances (operating like a cage in search of birds) more suspects have been scandalized than convicted, but that often the scandal lingers. We conclude that for most acquitted persons requesting post-trial compensation is a dead end, and that doing so for some might further increase reputational damage. While several acquitted people ultimately remained defamed, some exonerated persons fully recovered from the human rights scandal by redefining compensation, and by turning the table and scandalizing the ICC.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-192
JournalJournal of International Criminal Justice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Mar 2023


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