David Scheffer


On his book All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals

Cover Interview of January 31, 2012

In a nutshell

Leadership impunity for the commission of atrocity crimes is on the losing side of history now.

To understand why the highest political and military leaders are increasingly at risk of indictment and prosecution today—why Muammar Gaddafi and his son Saif Al-Islam were indicted by the International Criminal Court last year, why Sudan’s current president, Omar Al-Bashir, was indicted for genocide in Darfur and defies to this day the authority of the same court, why Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are finally standing trial in The Hague before the Yugoslav Tribunal, why former Liberian President Charles Taylor awaits the judgment of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, why three of the surviving top Khmer Rouge leaders of the Pol Pot regime are on trial today in Phnom Penh—requires looking back to the turbulent decade of the 1990s.

All the Missing Souls is the story of this transformational moment in history, a personal account of the creation and rise of five major war crimes tribunals during the 1990s, and it is also about the atrocities that shaped their mandates.

I write in the book that what happened was “one of the most ambitious judicial experiments in the history of humankind—a global assault on the architects of atrocities—found its purpose as mass killings and ethnic cleansing consumed entire regions of the earth.  The grand objective since 1993 has been to end impunity at the highest levels of government and the military not only for genocide, which captures the popular imagination with its heritage in the Holocaust, but also for the far less understood offenses of crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

I had the lead American job, as the U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues and before that as senior counsel to America’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Madeleine Albright, in building the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, and the permanent International Criminal Court.

So the book is an insider’s account of eight years of American and international policy-making in response to mass atrocities and the demand for justice in the aftermath.  The narrative is both self-critical and comprehensive, guiding you through the daily diplomatic jousts and investigative challenges of international justice, where political calculations and pressures constantly dance with judicial imperatives.

I wrote All the Missing Souls over a three-year period, from 2007 through 2010.  I waited to write this personal history because I aimed to describe the rapid evolution of international justice during the 1990s through my own reflective prism of experience.  I wanted the dust to settle so I would be honest and self-critical.  This is a much more compelling and introspective book now in 2012 than it would have been if I had written it in 2001 right after leaving government service.