Towards a realistic utopia: literary representations of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

The ad hoc international criminal tribunals established by the UN Security Council in the 1990s represented the first international efforts to respond to war crimes since the Nuremberg Trials. These tribunals had practical as well as symbolic significance in the context of a longer history of utopian ideas of international justice and universal human rights. Focusing on the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), this article examines the 2009 memoir of the ICTY’s chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, as well as Dubravka Ugresić’s novel The Ministry of Pain (2005). Both these narratives grapple with the ICTY as a utopic ideal and a flawed material institution, but they also generate insights into how its processes can be leveraged to speak to larger audiences and address other injustices. This article explains how such narratives can do more than critique the ICTY’s limits, aspiring to affirm what Jurgen Habermas calls a ‘realistic utopia’.


Terri Tomsky, Assistant Professor, Department of English & Film Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta, Canada. Email:

Publish Date: 
November, 2016
Publication title: 
AJHR 22-2: Special issue on Utopias and human rights