Among major world bodies, new and old, none holds the place of the International Criminal Court (ICC), sometimes mistakenly called the World Court. Speaking in Uganda this past week, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon sang the ICC's praises, seemingly oblivious to the serious shortcomings its critics have been pointing out since its inception.
As of March 2010, 111 states are members of the Court, and a further 37 countries have signed but not ratified the Rome Statute. However, a number of states, including China, India, Russia and the United States, are critical of the court and have not joined. Clearly the ICC isn't without problems, but what of the solutions it offers?
As the ICC's website relates:
"In the 1990s after the end of the Cold War, tribunals like the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda were the result of consensus that impunity is unacceptable. However, because they were established to try crimes committed only within a specific time-frame and during a specific conflict, there was general agreement that an independent, permanent criminal court was needed. On 17 July 1998, the international community reached an historic milestone when 120 States adopted the Rome Statute, the legal basis for establishing the permanent International Criminal Court."
Article 5 of the Rome Statute grants the court jurisdiction over four groups of crimes, which it refers to as the “most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole”: the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. The countries that have not joined generally contend that doing so would impinge on their sovereignty as states, but also are among the most militaristic on the planet.
The statute defines each of these crimes except for aggression: it provides that the court will not exercise its jurisdiction over the crime of aggression until such time as the states parties agree on a definition of the crime and set out the conditions under which it may be prosecuted. So far, the ICC has almost exclusively focused on crimes committed in Africa, almost as if they were never committed elsewhere.
Nevertheless, Ban Ki Moon had nothing but nice things to say: "Few would have believed then that this court would spring so vigorously into life, fully operational, investigating and prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity," he told the delegates to a conference, AFP news agency reports.
"In this new age of accountability, those who commit the worst of human crimes will be held responsible." Strangely, those countries who are responsible for other of the worst human crimes are not being held responsible, including states and their leader who have refused to become members.
As a current event creating the future, the International Criminal Court is at best a necessary evil, and at worst a world body which turns a blind eye to evil itself.