The International Criminal Court (ICC) shines as an example of modern international law. There is nothing quite of its likeness in human history. The ability of a diverse international body to put individuals accused of crimes against humanity and genocide on trial is a great accomplishment of human civilization. The modernity of the International Criminal Court can also work to be one of its greatest flaws.
People tend to have a fixation on things in our past, and nostalgia can be a big factor in how people view their history. Collective memory intensifies this practice, and can reach back hundreds, if not thousands of years in order to create a homogenous national identity. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), which is the defining document from which the ICC draws its strength, was a treaty adopted on July 17, 1998, and it entered into effectiveness on July 1, 2002 (www.icc-cpi.int). Having been in proper effectiveness for only about 20 years gives the ICC little credit with the larger players in the field of international relations, and this limitation tends to be seen mostly within the types of cases that it prosecutes.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the ICC has indicted more than 40 individuals for crimes as outlined in the Rome Statute. Every single conviction has involved an individual from an African nation (www.cfr.org). There has been discussion for the ICC to investigate other instances of crimes against humanity, such as with the Rohingya crisis of South-East Asia. However, the fact that the only indicted individuals are from Africa has led to much opposition to the court, articulated with arguments that assert that the court has an African bias. The relative newness of the court means that realistically it can only take on cases that are feasible to prosecute, and the conflicts that have existed in some African countries provide an easier platform to try individuals without facing much opposition from a strong international player.
With each case and subsequent ruling, however, the ICC gains more and more clout as an international organization. This increasing relevance has served to actually spook some of the signatory nations who become fearful that ICC investigators will come to indict their citizens. This has led to some participating nations to either bar investigators from entering their country, as the current Trump administration has done in response to fears of U.S. service members being tried for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan (www.state.gov), or outright withdraw from the treaty itself such as in the case of the Philippine response to ICC investigation of alleged crimes committed under the guise of its “War on Drugs” campaign (www.icc-cpi.int).
The latter situation presents some interesting legal challenges on the issue jurisdiction, specifically on whether or not the ICC would still have jurisdiction to investigate crimes within a former signatory country that occurred while it was still an active member of the ICC. This view is argued by the ICC itself with respect to the Philippine situation, as it asserts that under the rules of the Rome Statute, any investigations that were undertaken by the ICC while a country was a signatory of the treaty, will not be affected upon a country’s written declaration of its intent to remove itself from the Rome Statute (www.icc-cpi.int).
For all of its strengths and weaknesses, the ICC still stands as an important experiment. Is our current system of globalization and international law strong enough to support a system that has the unilateral power to try those who are accused of violating international human rights laws no matter what country they occurred in? We are not quite there yet it seems within our current system. There is still progress to be made, but progress is indeed currently being made in many areas of international law. However, time will tell if this current iteration of the ICC will keep its teeth long enough to become a cornerstone of the international law of the future, or if it will be stripped of its effectiveness before it can make a lasting mark.
About the Author
Garrett Booth was a digital resources intern at the IRC for the Summer 2019 term. He is a senior at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas, majoring in History and Political Science. He intends to use his education to pursue a career with the U.S. State Department or the Foreign Service.