The International Criminal Court and Its Shortcomings

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By  Magnus Lundström

International justice is the ability for the international community to punish criminals for committing atrocities. To many countries, this is perfectly reasonable. To others, this sounds strange and threatening to their national legal system. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is located in The Hague, Netherlands, and has been active since 2002. Its purpose is to deal with ‘international crimes, where national legal institutions fall short.’ These crimes include genocides, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. For fifteen years, the ICC has investigated, prosecuted and sentenced individuals who have been found responsible for the aforementioned felonies. Is an international justice tribunal reasonable, and how does its future look?

The idea of an international criminal court can be traced back to the end of the First World War. The League of Nations attempted to establish such a tribunal in 1937. Members of the organization failed to ratify it however, and the idea disappeared – until the end of the Second World War. Following the Nazi’s genocide and crimes against humanity during the Holocaust, the idea was resurrected once again. The Nuremberg Trials, the first real attempt to create an international court, were ran by the Allies – the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union – who acted as prosecutors, judges and hangmen.

In the early 1950s, further progress was made. The UN General Assembly created the International Law Commission (ILC), but in practice it lacked both influence and power. It took another forty years for anything more to happen. The early 1990s saw mass atrocities in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, where special war crime tribunals were created to punish those responsible. In May 1998 efforts were made to establish an institution for international justice. During a diplomatic conference in Rome, the four categories of international crimes were established: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression. The statute was adopted following a vote, with 120 countries in favor, seven against and 21 abstaining. Among the seven countries that voted against, only three have admitted to doing so: The People’s Republic of China, Israel, and the U.S. As votes were cast anonymously, it remains unclear which other nations opposed the statute.

The Rome Statute entered into force on July 1st 2002, and the ICC was created following ratification of the statute by 60 countries. Ever since, the ICC has worked to investigate, prosecute and sentence individuals charged with crimes within the court’s remit. Investigations have officially been conducted in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan (Darfur), Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mali and Georgia. Individuals such as Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, former presidents in Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo and Uhuru Kenyatta, as well as the notorious Ugandan Joseph Kony have been indicted by the court.

On the one hand, this reflects positively on the ICC; it has managed to conduct its work effectively. On the other hand, if one takes a closer look at who the ICC is recognized by, and where the Court can conduct its work, the outlook is gloomier. Large and powerful countries such as the U.S. and Russia have signed the Rome Statute, but have subsequently withdrawn their signatures, whereas countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Belarus have refused to sign it at all. The ICC cannot operate in countries that are not signatories to the Rome Statute, since its mission is not recognized. International institutions work only if they receive wide recognition. Regrettably, the world’s most powerful countries do not recognize the ICC. Since the fear of being prosecuted for atrocities holds greater weight than pursuing international justice, the future looks bleak. It is unlikely that this will change, but one can at least hope.   

By  Magnus Lundström

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