Analysis & Opinions - METRO U.N.

The International Criminal Court: A Court of Justice or a Political Tool?

| Oct. 10, 2018

The ICC was created in 2002 after the horrific genocides and war crimes of the modern era in order to advance the universality and observance of the norms of the Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Charter by bringing to justice persons responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes when national authorities cannot or will not prosecute them. On the 70thanniversary of that Declaration President Trump and his Administration launched an attack against the institution as part of an assault on the very essence of the world order concept that had also brought forth the ICC.

In a speech at the 73rdGeneral Assembly, which the former American diplomat Ivo Daalder rightly characterized as a declaration of war on multilateralism, Trump attacked the concept of international cooperation by agreed rules, propagating instead unrestricted sovereignty as the core principle of international politics and denounced international organizations and agreements as agents of “global governance, control, and domination.” Creating fake news by misrepresenting the ICC as claiming “…near-universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country violating all principles of justice, fairness, and due process…” Trump proclaimed: “We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy.” His national Security Advisor John Bolton went even further in a speech two weeks earlier threatening its personnel and anybody who assisted the Court with sanctions and arrest, while simultaneously belittling it as about to die and exaggerating its role as “dangerous”.

The hopes of the founding states, the EU members having been particularly supportive, were only partially fulfilled. Seventy states did not ratify the Statute of Rome, among them powerful states like the US, China and Russia as well as others with a doubtful human rights record. The US signed the Statute under President Clinton, “unsigned” it under President G.W. Bush and passed a law protecting American military and those of its allies against the ICC, even authorizing the use of force to liberate US or allied military detained by the ICC. 

Nevertheless the Court has worked continuously, opened several dozen investigations, conducted preliminary examinations, issued arrest warrants, had a number of trials and convicted several individuals. To be sure, the fact that most cases dealt with African situations and persons has caused some resentment. But the activities of the Court did fulfill to a modest degree the hopes of the creators that the existence of the ICC constantly reminded dictators and human rights violators in high office that they could be held accountable for their crimes and that this would have a long term positive effect on the observation of norms of international law. In this respect the ICC followed the rationale of the Hague Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia, which had been established in 1993 and dealt with the crimes of that conflict until 2017.

The Trump Administration is very much alone in denying the need for multilateral cooperation on global problems, be they climate change or international trade. The attack on the ICC, if anything, has increased international support for the Court, especially among America’s allies. Obviously reacting to President Trump’s views, President Emmanuel Macron spoke in the name of Europe when stating at the General Assembly that the human rights norms of the 1948 Declaration had become a body of law sanctified in freely consented treaties and that “their universality is not contrary to the sovereignty of peoples but that it is the only possible condition for protecting and exercising their rights.” His promise to continue supporting the ICC reflects the intention of Europe as a whole. 


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kaiser, Karl.“The International Criminal Court: A Court of Justice or a Political Tool?.” METRO U.N., October 10, 2018.

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