War crimes trials are claimed to hold the capacity to contribute to a range of ambitious justice goals in post-conflict societies, such as the public recognition of victims' experiences, the promotion of respect for the rule of law, and the fostering of reconciliation. This article unsettles these claims through a case study of the UN-sponsored Serious Crimes Process in East Timor. It charts the practical and political constraints upon the Serious Crimes Process which undermined its ability to achieve its own goals. In addition, it draws on interviews with East Timorese survivors to demonstrate the difficulties faced by the Serious Crimes Process in fully meeting locally grounded demands for justice. This analysis illustrates the inherent limits of war crimes trials in responding to calls for justice, which transcend the possibilities of the criminal law.