The International Criminal Court: Effective or Not?


Is there any justice in this world? While this may be a cliché phrase, it’s still valid. When we read the news everyday we are bombarded by terrible atrocities: deaths, war crimes, bombings, terrorism, misuse of power etc. At the end of the day, we may ask ourselves, how can we make this world fairer? The International Criminal Court, or ICC aims to do just that. It aims to bring that justice society so ardently craves. Whether this court is effective or not is debatable.

The ICC is designed to bring justice and prosecute those who are guilty of war crimes such as genocide and other crimes against humanity. However, this court is seen as the last resort for many nations – only to be used when national authorities are unable to prosecute. The Court also has many other limitations that can spark the argument toward the opposition of its existence. The court is only limited to dealing with cases or crimes that were committed after July 1, 2002, the court only has jurisdiction in crimes committed in territories which have ratified the treaty, and only by a citizen of such a state. When the crime is committed outside a state that is party to the Rome Statute, the ICC can only act if the case is referred to it by the United Nations Security Council. It is already clear that the cases that can be pursued by the ICC have a potential for bias when not all states are involved.

The cases the ICC are currently pursing are in Africa, in response to which many African leaders blame the ICC for being biased. For example, the courts first verdict, in March 2012, was against Thomas Lubanga, the leader of a militia in Democratic Republic of Congo. He was convicted of war crimes relating to the use children in that country’s conflict and sentenced in July for 14 years. Other political leaders charged by the court include; Ivory Coast former President Laurent Gbagdo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, former Vice President of Democratic Republic of Congo, Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui – militia leaders from Congo, Uhuru Kenyatta, winner of Kenya’s 2013 presidential election, and several leaders of Uganda’s rebel movement. While the court has successfully secured several war criminals, it still has many outstanding warrants, such as those against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir – facing charges on three counts of genocide, two counts of war crimes, and five courts of crimes against humanity.

This leads me to the question, how much power does the ICC actually have? Evidently, they have very little power if any at all. The ICC itself has no police force to track down suspects. Instead, they must rely on the nations own police system to make arrests and seek their transfer to The Hague. This has posed a great problem for the ICC and other nations who have signed as members. For example, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir remains free because signatory countries refuse to cooperate to his arrest. It must be taken into consideration that various interest groups and nations also have high stakes in the matters of who is or isn’t charged within the ICC. Another example, in July of 2012 the African Union Summit was moved from Malawi to Ethiopia after Malawi’s leader did not want to host Omar al-Bashir at the risk of antagonizing Western donors. This situation highlights the balance many nations must take into account of allowing their own internal investigations, keeping good relations with Western nations (who are often donating large sums of aid) and keeping up with the conditions of being a signatory to the ICC. The way the court works can also be seen as ineffective since the cases that are taken are only those that have been referred to prosecutors by only ratified states or the UN Security Council. This also means that only ratified states are eligible to vote for the judges within the court.

What of states that are not involved in the International Criminal Court? Many of the larger global powers are not involved in the ICC, such as China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey and the United States. Of this list, the most prominent state that strikes out is the United States. The US has stayed out of the Court because they argue their soldiers would be subject “politically motivated or frivolous prosecutions.” On July 12, 2002 the UN Security Council had offered US troops a 12 month exemption from prosecutions – to be renewed annually. In June 2004 that request was not renewed on account of the pictures released of US troops abusing Iraqi prisoners. The exclusion of the United States from the International Criminal Court undermines the legitimacy and power of the institution. On a monetary front, the largest financial contributions to the Court are from Japan, Germany, France and Britain – the absence of the US puts a strong financial burden on other nations.

Today, the International Criminal Court is still extremely prominent in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On April 1, 2015, Palestine became a member of the ICC that has been seen as a key and strategic step for them to further pursue Israeli’s for alleged war crimes. This move has caused another conflict between Israel and Palestine. While the Palestinian foreign minister Riad Malki, states that by verifying their membership in the ICC, they are seeking “justice not vengeance.” On the other hand, Israel has denounced the move as “political, cynical and hypocritical.” While the United States is not involved in the ICC, they too have condemned Palestine’s membership, as they have not recognized it as a sovereign state.

Is there any justice in this world? The International Criminal Court is indeed a valid institution with the greatest intentions to achieve a more fair and just world. However, with the many players on the global stage, the lack of proper support from major global powers, international justice is undermined. This institution can be extremely effective if all states stand accountable. Additionally, support from nations such as China, India, and the United States would bring legitimacy to the international judicial system. How can we hold these states accountable and get them to actively participate with the Court?  We can surmise that states may deter from their participation due to their own internal political crimes or corruption. A key away to ensure participation from all states would be to create a global discussion. There is a stigma in society that nations, in order to be good nations, must be completely clean of bloodshed. The reality however, is that no state truly is. It must be understood that states, as people, are selfish. This dialogue must be confronted in order for states and its citizens to take responsibility for their actions. Education and self-awareness are the key to greater participation.

Rhetoric and values are not enough, states must also be financially obligated to condemn political leaders or rebel groups who have committed crimes against humanity. We already have a system of nations putting sanctions on other nations in response to atrocities. Too often a time the nations administering sanctions are the stronger global powers, such as the United States. Accountability must be ensured to keep power in check. The UN and ICC are institutions that should be able to hold all nations equally under the eye of justice. A financial obligation would allow for a concrete way to hold accountability and keep a balance of power – where sanctions may be placed on any states who fail to cooperate with the ICC. In doing so, greater funding to the ICC may also allow for a police force that adheres to human rights and not to political agendas.

Aishwarya Sahai

Partnership Director at The Organization for World Peace, Aishwarya completed her BA at the University of Toronto in Political Science and History. She is currently a Research Analyst with the NATO Association of Canada and will be continuing her
education with a Masters in International Conflict and Security in Brussels this Fall.

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About Aishwarya Sahai

Partnership Director at The Organization for World Peace, Aishwarya completed her BA at the University of Toronto in Political Science and History. She is currently a Research Analyst with the NATO Association of Canada and will be continuing her education with a Masters in International Conflict and Security in Brussels this Fall.