The International Criminal Court is not an institution that crops up in casual conversation, even in conversations about politics. When it does come up, it is never pleasant. And why would it be? The task given to this institution is not an envious one.
The ICC investigates and charges individuals who have committed crimes against humanity. The ICC was created by the Rome Statute a treaty brought forth by the United Nations but operates independently. The ICC is often seen as “the court of last resort.” Due to this, the court system usually sees the worst of what humanity has to offer, legally speaking.
So it’s safe to say this isn’t dinner party talk.
However, the International Criminal Court is one of the few institutions that can hold powerful people accountable. Without it, Charles Taylor the infamous president of Liberia and feared war criminal might still be living in exile. For many victims of human rights abuses, entities like the International Criminal Court remain the only place where they have a chance of getting justice.
The countries that are still recovering from civil wars, coups and foreign intervention in their political processes are in the nascent stages of rebuilding their homes. This means that the branches of government such as the legislative and judiciary may not be fully equipped in making sure the perpetrators of such violence are held accountable.
Additionally, it may be dangerous to hold such trials in the country of the accused in question. Lack of government infrastructure, fear for people’s safety and tenous peacebuilding all combine to drive home how important the ICC is. This is why the court being threatened by one of the most powerful countries in the world, is of grave consequence. Before John Bolton’s unceremonious departure from Trump’s cabinet, he gave a strongly worded speech threatening sanctions and labeled the ICC “illegitimate.”
Subsequently, the US imposed visa bans on all ICC personnel and staff involved in the investigation of US citizens.
This isn’t the first time the ICC has suffered from attempts to delegitimize it. Last year, President Duterte of the Philippines said that the country had given the notice to withdraw from the ICC. Burundi also withdrew in 2017, becoming the first country that has done so.
Naturally, the United States condemnation of the ICC has garnered the most attention. An important question is, what caused it? It may be due to current investigations into the conduct of American personnel in Afghanistan. Moreover, an investigation may be in the works regarding Palestine which would include the conduct of Israeli officials. The US and Israel have a long and mutually beneficial allyship that may be threatened by this.
It is important to note that the countries that have sought to attack or unnecessarily criticize the ICC in recent years have all been accused of grave crimes themselves.
President Duterte’s inhumane war on drugs has left thousands dead and made headlines around the world. Burundi’s security forces have carried out widespread human rights abuses such as abductions and beatings. The United States unnecessary and damaging war in Afghanistan and generally dangerous foreign policy continues to be felt.
All of these countries and their leaders have something to protect.
Namely, the political establishment and access to power. They have no interest in ensuring the ones that have been hurt the most by their policies and actions receive the protection they deserve. The ICC stands as an impartial organization that is not beholden to any government. For many, it is the last or only chance they have at having their voices heard.
There is something so moving about victims of war and human rights abuses coming face to face with their perpetrators in court to hold them accountable. They have the chance to explain what happened to them, their children and their country. The ICC gives these victims a platform for their voices to be heard and for justice to be served.
We cannot let those who would attempt to bully or intimidate the members of the court from doing their job in protecting human rights laws. Without the ICC countless more crimes will continue to go unchecked, and then what kind of world will we live in? There so much hate and pain in the world, we cannot stand down.