The International Criminal Court: Jesters and justice

The ICC has fallen short on its promise of bringing justice to the international community. Photo: International Criminal Court

NEW YORK, February 12, 2013 - Although the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established with the promise of bringing to justice a host of international criminals, the Court has fallen short of delivering on that promise. 

Eleven years ago, on February 12, 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) began its trial of Slobodan Milosevic. The former Serbian and Yugoslav president, charged with genocide and war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo, chose to serve as his own attorney throughout the painfully prolonged trial, which ended abruptly on March 11, 2006 when a heart attack killed the “Butcher of the Balkans.”

The conclusion of the trial was an unexpected failure, as tens of thousands of people killed and tormented by Milosevic’s dreams for a Greater Serbia received no justice for their suffering. The tyrant was responsible for countless atrocities in the late 1980s and 1990s, goading his fellow Serbs to fight against the Bosnians, Croats, Kosovar Albanians, Slovenes, and eventually, NATO.

The ICC had hinted publicly that an appropriate verdict was near just before Milosevic succumbed to his poor health. Yet, history has since shown that, had Milosevic survived, chances that the court would have delivered a timely and just verdict were actually quite slim.

History, in fact, shows a record of abysmal failure at the ICC.

When the ICC opened its doors on July 1, 2002, it was vested with the permanent power to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other international offenses. In other words, international justice was the grand goal. The ICC’s advocates conceived of noble stories in which the court would bring to justice countless dictators and their ruthless accomplices.

However, while the ICC has received complaints about alleged crimes in at least 139 countries, it has opened cases on just eight of them. The Court has completed since its inception a grand total of one trial—that of Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese rebel commander. In July of 2012, more than six years after it arrested Lubanga, the court found him guilty of conscripting and using child soldiers in a war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Then the Court proceeded to sentence him to a measly fourteen years of imprisonment, six of which were slashed for time already served.

In 2009, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Since then, al-Bashir has traveled freely to numerous African countries, many of which are member states of the ICC, conducting his business of repression and corruption without fear of arrest.

Also representative of the utter ineffectiveness of the ICC was the court’s issuing an arrest warrant for Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in late June of 2011. By this point, a multi-state military intervention had been in progress for three months, and it appeared all but certain that foreign military forces would, at the very least, overthrow Gaddafi. The ICC seemingly issued this warrant for the purpose of appearing useful. It fooled no one, except President Obama. In fact, at this point in time—before the NATO alliance killed Gaddafi— Obama praised the UN Security Council decision to refer the dictator to the ICC.

All indications point to the Obama administration’s increasing desire to drag the United States into the ICC. In 2009, the administration chose to participate as an observer in sessions of the ICC’s governing body. In 2010, the administration sent a large delegation to the Review Conference in Kampala, Uganda, where member states adopted two new sets of amendments on international crimes which the United States supported. Following this conference, State Department legal advisor Harold Koh remarked, “Principled engagement worked to protect our interest, to improve the outcome, and to bring us renewed international goodwill.” If, by “principled engagement,” Koh referred to providing legitimacy to one of the must ineffective multilateral institutions in the world; if, by “improve the outcome,” Koh referred to allowing genocidal dictators to continue to walk free; and if, by “renewed international goodwill,” Koh referred to receiving a pat on the back from such human rights leaders as the Congo, Iran, and Venezuela; then yes, the United States accomplished just what Koh claimed.

The repeated failures of the ICC have shown that, despite criticism from all corners of the world, including human rights activists within the United States, President George W. Bush was right to “unsign” the United States from the Rome Statute that President Bill Clinton had signed in 2000.

Since its inception, the ICC has provided false hope for millions of people the world over suffering under tyranny and genocide. The court conducts its business with imprudent geographic bias.  So far, the ICC has investigated and tried individuals almost exclusively from Africa.  It shows excruciating lethargy, as exemplified by the five-year trial of Milosevic.  It also suffers from insufficient oversight.  The ICC has a self-initiating prosecutor who answers to no state or institution other than the court itself. Furthermore, the Court provides a seemingly respectable platform from which criminals can thumb their noses against democratic powers.

Predictably, the ICC has proven itself unable to deliver international justice. It cannot deter or stop war crimes and genocide, or anything else, for that matter. The Obama administration should heed the lessons of history and resist pulling the United States into this illegitimate institution.


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Raj Kannappan

Raj Kannappan is a junior at Cornell University pursuing a B.A. in Government and Asian Studies. Currently, he is Chairman of the Cornell University College Republicans and a regular opinion columnist for the Cornell Review, recently voted by peers as the top conservative campus newspaper in the country, and TheCollegeConservative, a national online publication that includes conservative commentary from college students. 

He has interned at the Hudson Institute, providing research assistance for Senior Fellow Tevi Troy, former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President Bush, and Senior Fellow Richard Weitz, an expert on regional security issues and WMD nonproliferation policies. He has also conducted health economics and international security research at Cornell, studying the effects of tobacco tax differences on inter-state purchasing and the implications of cost-benefit analyses in democratic military interventions.

Having been born in India and having lived in India, Singapore, Thailand, and now, America, Raj has come to recognize the importance of American leadership, small government, personal responsibility, and most importantly, family. His interests include politics, international affairs, military history, and cricket. 

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