Tag Archives: International Criminal Court

War Crimes in the Middle East

A report issued by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council earlier this week concluded that both the Israeli government and Palestinian militants committed war crimes during the summer 2014 conflict that resulted in more than 2,200 Palestinian deaths—the majority of whom were civilians—and 73 Israeli deaths.

Both sides were quick to condemn the report. In a press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that Israel remains “committed to the rule of law” and noted that the country has repeatedly been forced to defend itself against “Palestinian war crimes.” In Gaza, Hamas authorities complained that the report stablished “a false equality between victims and their killers.”

The report could further efforts by the Palestinian Authority to launch a formal war crimes complaint against Israel with the International Criminal Court, a strategy Palestinian officials already appear to be pursing.

What do you think? Given the report’s findings, does the international community have an obligation to help resolve the longstanding conflict and prevent further civilian casualties? What if anything might be done to de-escalate tensions between Israel and Palestine? And is the Palestinian strategy of pursuing recourse through the International Criminal Court the correct one? Why?

Palestine, Israel, and the International Criminal Court

Palestine-ICCAfter failing to secure full membership in the United Nations earlier this month, the Palestinian government received approval from the UN Secretary General to join the International Criminal Court. Palestinian membership in the ICC opens the possibility of Palestine filing suit against Israel in the ICC, though such a move would likely provoke a sharp response from both Israel and the United States. Both countries opposed both full UN membership and membership in the ICC for Palestine.

Recent moves by the Palestinian Authority signal a growing frustration with US-led negotiations, which have failed to produce significant results to date. The Palestinian government is seeking to pressure the US and Israel by using other international forums. For their part, both the United States and Israel have threatened to withhold funding for Palestine if it continues with such efforts, maintaining that a negotiated settlement is the only foundation for a lasting peace in the Middle East.

What do you think? Is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ strategy of shifting the locus of attention from US-led negotiations to international forums like the United Nations and the ICC likely to increase pressure on Israel to move the peace process forward? How will the US and Israel likely respond? And will their responses be effective?

Investigating and Prosecuting War Crimes

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, yesterday announced she was opening a “preliminary investigation” into possible war crimes committed during the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic. The Central African Republic—one of Africa’s poorest countries—has been the site of ongoing sectarian violence for more than a year. Thousands of refugees have attempted to flee into neighboring countries, often escorted by African Union-backed peacekeeping forces.

In her report, Bensouda noted that her initial investigation has already found “hundreds of killings, acts of rape and sexual slavery, destruction of property, pillaging, torture, forced displacement and recruitment and use of children in hostilities,” and that “in many incidents, victims appear to have been deliberately targeted on religious grounds.” Some have suggested that the Central African Republic may be on the verge of genocide.

Fatou Bensoouda’s statement was published as a short, 3 minute video.

The International Criminal Court was created in 2002 to prosecute acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in situations where existing national legal systems are unwilling or unable to act. The ICC has come under attack in recent years for its near-exclusive focus on Africa, as all of the ICC’s investigations to date have focused on African countries.

What do you think? Should the ICC begin an investigation into developments in the Central African Republic? Is the ICC biased against Africa? Or does it merely reflect the concentration of conflict in the region? Can the ICC effectively deal with war crimes and crimes against humanity? Why or why not?

Is the ICC Biased?


A 2012 Meeting of the African Union

A 2012 Meeting of the African Union

African Union officials meeting over the weekend urged the International Criminal Court to postpone cases against sitting leaders. Leaders of the 54-member African Union contend that a pattern of bias exists within the ICC, making fair trials of African leaders impossible. Ethiopia’s foreign minister, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesys, stated, “We are deeply troubled by the fact that a sitting head of state and his deputy are for the first time being tired in an international court, which infringes on the sovereignty of Kenya and undermines…the country’s reconciliation and reform process.”

The International Criminal Court was established in 2002 to prosecute claims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The organization’s charter provides that the ICC is not a substitute for domestic legal proceedings and that the organization shall defer to national courts, only becoming involved when the national court system is unable or unwilling to address questions of justice. The court is currently hearing a case against Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto, and his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, is scheduled to appear in court next month. The court has also heard cases or issued warrants against leaders in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, and Uganda.  The court has yet to hear cases against any government outside of Africa, although it is conducting investigations into situations in Afghanistan, Georgia, Colombia, Honduras, and Korea.

The International Criminal Court operates under the principle of voluntary jurisdiction, meaning that unless a case is explicitly referred to it by the United Nations Security Council, it can generally only deal with cases against citizens of countries that are party to the Rome Statute that created the organization. Three countries, the United States, Israel, and Sudan, have informed the United Nations that they are withdrawing from the Rome Statute and therefore have no legal obligations under the agreement.

As a result of the perception that the ICC has focused on prosecuting African leaders, several other African states, including Kenya, are considering withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the ICC.  The NGO Human Rights Watch has urged the countries not to withdraw, asserting that “Any withdrawal fro the ICC would send the wrong signal about Africa’s commitment to protect and promote human rights and to reject impunity.” But with the perception of bias within the ICCC growing, African leaders may face no alternative.

What do you think? Has the ICC demonstrated bias against African leaders? Would such bias justify a withdrawal of African Member States from the International Criminal Court? And what other signals might such a withdrawal send? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

After the First Verdict: Why So Much Skepticism of the ICC?

Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord, became the first person ever to be convicted by the International Criminal Court on March 14, 2012.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued its first verdict on Wednesday, convicting Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord, of war crimes for recruiting child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While some have hailed this verdict as a major victory for the court, skeptics continue to doubt the effectiveness of the ICC.

The ICC is an international governmental organization (IGO)–an organization whose members are states–that was created by the 1998 Rome Treaty and today has 120 members. Its purpose is to prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  But a major weakness of the ICC is that while it can issue indictments and arrest warrants it has no enforcement power to actually bring fugitives to justice.  Instead, it relies on states to deliver war criminals to the Hague (where the ICC is headquartered) for trial–a serious limitation since many states lack either the resources or the inclination to assist the ICC.  See this blog entry from last summer for a review of these weaknesses in the context of the Qaddafi indictment.  (In contrast, a success story emerged yesterday from Mauritania, where Moammar Qaddafi’s former intelligence chief–indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity along with Qaddafi–was captured.  It remains unclear whether he will be tried in Libya, in France, or at the ICC).

Another concern is that the ICC is frequently unable to gather sufficient evidence to prosecute the most severe crimes.  This problem reared its head in the Lubanga trial, as highlighted by the Kenyan newspaper The Standard:

“One conspicuous aspect of the Lubanga trial is that he was solely charged with forcibly conscripting and using child soldiers in war. This is despite the fact that rebels under his command have been accused of massive human rights violations, including ethnic massacres, murder, torture, rape, and mutilation…[An expert suggests that the ICC prosecutor] may have opted to only prosecute the lesser crime because he probably did not have tangible evidence on other atrocities.”

Shadow Government, a blog written by conservative opponents of the Obama administration, recently blasted the ICC over its failure to apprehend Joseph Kony, the indicted war criminal who is the subject of the most viral video in history:

“…The Kony YouTube producers have put their full faith in the International Criminal Court. The chief prosecutor of the ICC is, predictably, reveling in the media attention. How pathetic. Has anyone missed the fact that the ICC indictment was issued seven years ago? The ICC has not been the solution, the ICC has been the excuse — since 2005 — for inaction. In the misguided thinking of the ICC’s supporters, no government or military needs to do anything about stopping Kony because once he is captured he will be put on trial. One problem: Who is going to catch him? Just like its predecessor, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the ICC has proven to be an exercise in non-interventionist self indulgence. By focusing exclusively on the eventual prosecution, non interventionists (generally a collection of cowardly governments, conservative realists, and left-leaning peace activists) can wrap themselves in the moral satisfaction of appearing to take action while avoiding the unpleasant reality that someone has to step up and do something about it. As predicted by the ICC’s critics at the time of its founding, it is all law and no law enforcement. ”

What do you think?  Are the ICC’s myriad critics correct or do they exaggerate the deficiencies of this IGO?  These critics usually don’t discuss the alternative: if the ICC did not exist, would the world be better or worse off?

The ICC, Libya, and the Fate of Qaddafi’s Son

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the powerful Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

The son and intelligence chief of former Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi have both been captured by militia groups in Libya within the last few days. Both men are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of crimes against humanity, and a tug-of-war has begun between the ICC and Libya’s new leaders over where and how these fugitives will be tried.  Libya’s interim government, the Transitional National Council (TNC), had promised to turn over these suspects to the ICC in the Hague once they were captured, but Libya’s leaders are now rethinking those commitments amid strong political pressure from some Libyan groups to try the men at home.

As discussed in a previous World Politics News Review post, the ICC is a 114-member International Governmental Organization (IGO) designed to prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  Although some countries, including the United States, have expressed concern that the ICC could trample on state sovereignty, the organization is supposed to adhere to the principle of complementarity, meaning it can only take action if national court systems are unable or unwilling to deal with the alleged perpetrators of these crimes.

In this case, Libya’s new government has yet to create an independent and effective court system capable of handling these trials, and the fate of Moammar Qaddafi–who was killed by a crowd of angry Libyans after being captured–casts further doubt on the country’s ability to hold a legitimate trial.  This situation therefore seems ideal for the ICC to step in under the principle of complementarity.  But many Libyans want Qaddafi’s son and intelligence chief tried at home for a range of offenses committed during Qaddafi’s long and oppressive rule.  One compromise that was discussed in a recent New York Times article would see the men tried first by the ICC on narrow crimes against humanity charges and then in Libya for a broader array of Qaddafi-era crimes against the Libyan people: “Holding a first trial in The Hague, lawyers and diplomats said, would have the benefit of keeping Mr. Qaddafi in a secure place and allow time for Libya to stabilize. The country also needs to build up a justice system, virtually from scratch, that is able to handle credible trials.”

What do you think?  Should the ICC relent and allow Libyans to try their own countrymen for crimes against the Libyan people?  Or would such an approach risk a trial that is–in image if not in reality–illegitimate, at a time when Libya is in desperate need of an independent and effective judiciary? If the ICC can pressure Libya’s leaders to take actions they don’t believe are in the national interest, has this IGO become too powerful?

The International Criminal Court and Global Governance

Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi, the target of an ICC arrest warrant.

The International Criminal Court’s decision this week to issue an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi has revived debate about the power and usefulness of the ICC in world politics.  The ICC is an international governmental organization (IGO)–an organization whose members are states–that was created by the 1998 Rome Treaty and today has 114 members.  Its purpose is to prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  (The charges against Qaddafi, his son, and his military intelligence chief were for crimes against humanity stemming from the regime’s  crackdown on anti-government protesters).  The ICC operates according to the principle of complementarity, which means that it can only act when national court systems are unable or unwilling to take action against the perpetrators of such crimes.  The United States has refused to sign the Rome Treaty and has expressed fears that its soldiers or government officials could be subjected to politically motivated prosecutions by the court, but it has increasingly shown a willingness to use the ICC as a tool to accomplish its foreign policy goals, as discussed in this piece by Colum Lynch.

“Global governance” refers to efforts to move beyond an anarchic system of sovereign states and create structures that can make and enforce rules at the global level.  The ICC is obviously a crucial part of these efforts.  However, a fundamental weakness of the ICC (and other global bodies) is that it does not have an army or police force that can enforce its arrest warrants and bring indicted war criminals such as Sudan’s President Bashir or Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi to justice.  One commentator described the ICC indictment as a fairly impotent call for Qaddafi to “please turn yourself in, now.”  Without “teeth” to enforce its dictates, the ICC must rely on cooperation from state actors, and a number of analysts have raised doubts about whether the NATO forces that are carrying out the bombing of Libya will extend their mission to enforcing the arrest warrant against Qaddafi and his associates.  David Kaye, director of the International Human Rights Law program at UCLA’s School of Law, put it this way:

“Arresting the three would require “boots on the ground,” a scenario that has largely — if not categorically — been taken off the table, especially by the United States. The last time NATO faced such a predicament, in Bosnia in the 1990s, it long resisted devoting any of its resources to enforcing arrest warrants issued by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, even when it had significant numbers of troops on the ground.”

Beyond questions of enforcement, other analysts have argued that the ICC indictments, while morally and legally justified, represent a tactical blunder that reduces the chances of a peace deal that could end the bloodshed in Libya.  Foreign policy analyst and former National Security Council official James Lindsay argued in a May 17 Op-Ed piece that an arrest warrant “…would give [Qaddafi]  additional reason to dig in his heels. With the threat of arrest and trial in The Hague hanging over his head, he knows he will not have the option given dictators of old – going into exile to Paris (Baby Doc Duvalier) or retreat to Saudi Arabi (Idi Amin)…Both a rebel victory and a stable ceasefire remain out of reach. A diplomatic initiative to persuade Gadhafi to step down offers one way out of the current stalemate. But Monday’s ICC indictment simply gives him another reason to hang on and fight.”  For other thoughtful articles on the conflict between justice and peace in this case, see here and here.

The Atlantic’s Max Fisher provides a somewhat different view, arguing that “Ultimately, the arrest warrant is likely to serve as little more than another bargaining chip in any negotiations over ending Libya’s civil war. That’s a good thing — as fighting worsens and civil society degrades, anything that makes peace more likely is essential — but it’s not quite international justice in the legal sense of the term.”

A final critique, aimed not at the indictment of Qaddafi per se, but at the inconsistent application of international law (i.e., why Qaddafi and not others?)can be found here.

What do you think?  Was the ICC’s indictment of Qaddafi a wise step?  How can the structural impediments to global governance (foremost among them, state sovereignty) be overcome to enforce human rights globally and consistently?  Or would the surrender of state sovereignty to supranational organizations actually create more problems than it solves?