Wednesday, March 13, 2013

ICC: It's all vague in the Hague

Pavel Chernyshev

March 11th marked 10 years since the beginning of operation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The idea was well-intentioned - to make sure that no politician responsible for a serious crime goes unpunished. However, so far the court has not been doing well, largely due to the fact that Russia, USA, China, and India are not involved in its work.

The document on the establishment of the ICC signed on July 17th, 1998 at a conference in Rome was called "the Rome Statute." It came into effect on July 1st, 2002, and on March 11th, 2003 its actual work began. The basic idea was ​​creating an international unit for investigating genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The ICC residence is located in The Hague, the same place where the International Court of Justice is located. But the ICC does not report to the UN, although the cases there are initiated on the recommendation of the Security Council.

The decision to establish the International Criminal Court was adopted a few years after the commencement of the tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda that saw bloodshed in the 1990s. There is no need to remind about the specifics of the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. An overwhelming number of those sentenced to long prison terms are Serbs, while Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians are sentenced much more rarely. Not only Serbia and Russia, but even many politicians in the West have questions for this tribunal.

In contrast to the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where the tone was set by the judges from the Western countries, the composition of the ICC looks much more diverse. It consists of 18 people, including two judges from Asia, two from Eastern Europe, three from Africa, four from Latin America, seven from Western Europe, North America and Australia and Oceania. The jurisdiction of the Court is to review the crimes committed after July 1st, 2002.

It can only bring to justice people of those countries that have signed and ratified the Rome Statute. However, third country nationals can be held accountable in the event it is requested by the UN Security Council. The first stipulation is severely limiting for the judges. It is sufficient for the influential countries with veto power in the UN Security Council to not ratify the Rome Statute, and its citizens automatically escape liability.

To date, the treaty establishing the ICC was signed by 115 countries, but not all of them have ratified it in the Parliament. Among those who agreed to "not hide" their citizens are European Union countries, Norway, Switzerland, and Japan. In the Western Hemisphere, the document was signed and ratified by nearly everybody - Canada, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico. In general, the court may well work. But not everything is smooth.

Take the UN Security Council, for example. Only France and the UK have ratified the document. As for Russia and the United States, they showed rare unanimity towards the ICC. Both countries signed the document, but have not ratified it. The American interest is clear - they are fighting too much, and their citizens commit too many crimes. The case of Iraqi prison "Abu Ghraib" alone could last many years. But the Americans are adamant and stated that no one except the U.S. can judge their countrymen.

Unlike the U.S., Russia is not launching wars around the world. However, a local conflict in South Ossetia still took place. If Russia ratifies the Rome Statute, the Russian military can be brought to justice. Mindful of the particular bias against Russia exhibited by Westerners (and some of the Muslim East), Russian citizens could be condemned for nothing. In this case, the behavior of the U.S. is also a serious argument.

The fifth permanent member of the UN Security Council, China, has not signed the document and has not ratified it. India, Turkey, Belarus are in the same boat. Belarusians do not fight anywhere, but Indians and Turks launch local wars now and then, and all kinds of things happen at these wars. The relentless enemies Israel and Iran have not ratified the document "just in case." Not that many countries want their citizens to be judged by others.

It turns out that the International Criminal Court is occupied exclusively by conflicts in Africa. Thomas Lubanga, the leader of the "Union of Congolese Patriots," a citizen of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), appeared before the ICC. In early 2012 he was found guilty of using children in hostilities in the civil war in the DRC. The leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda will face the same accusations.

Gradually the judges got to the heads of state. In July of 2008, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. He is accused of genocide of the residents of the rebellious province of Darfur, where over the past few years hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Today, the region is home to the "blue helmets" of the UN. As for Al-Bashir, with whom the West has not been dealing for a long time, is still in power in Sudan and simply does not go where he can be caught.

But if al-Bashir is really to blame for the charges against him, the story of Muammar Gaddafi seems more unsightly. When in the summer of 2011 NATO aircraft actively helped the opponents of the Libyan leader, the ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of the Colonel. In addition, Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam was declared wanted along with Libya's former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi. The Colonel did not get to The Hague as the Islamists and favorites of NATO simply tore him apart.

Today former President of Côte d'Ivoire Laurent Gbagbo is waiting for his fate in the Hague prison. He is considered the main culprit in the conflict that broke out in the country two years ago. In the spring of 2011 he was captured by French special forces, and later Gbagbo was brought to The Hague. He was charged with crimes against humanity, but the sentence has not yet been released.

During 10 years of its existence the ICC clearly has not yet been able to show itself as a respected and independent entity. Most of the leading world countries simply do not recognize it. In the areas where it works, judges still carry out orders of the West to prosecute the unwanted leaders. What is the difference between the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia? So far the only difference is the nationality of the accused.