U.S. stance on international court morally indefensible
Three days before the Fourth of July, we, as a nation, did something very sad. To no great fanfare, in a display of strong-arm tactics, the Bush administration suspended military aid to 35 countries that would not guarantee immunity for American citizens before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The “moral clarity” we ostensibly espouse was on triumphant display as White House spokesman Ari Fleischer stated clearly “there should be no misunderstanding that the issue of protecting U.S. persons from the International Criminal Court will be a significant and pressing matter in our relations with every state.”
This nefarious institution, the culmination of nearly 60 years’ effort to establish a permanent system of prosecution for the most heinous crimes against humanity, dares to hold our citizens accountable to international law. It threatens our sovereignty by boldly claiming that Americans are subject to prosecution for genocide and war crimes.
One-hundred and thirty-nine countries have signed the Rome Statute that ushered the court into being. Ninety countries have ratified it. The United States is the only state to have revoked its signature.
Our unwillingness to be bound by certain internationally defined standards on warfare conduct has been on public display throughout our battle against terrorism. With the detentions at Guantanamo Bay, we have amply exercised our ability, as the world’s sole superpower, to choose which rules we abide by.
However, no single stance is more morally indefensible than our active campaign against the ICC. The concerns that the administration has voiced – that the ICC threatens U.S. sovereignty; that its structure is flawed and ripe for exploitation and politically motivated prosecutions; that it undermines the role of the United National Security Council in maintaining international peace and security – are tenuous, hypocritical or both.
Sovereignty’s protection lies in the fact the Rome Statue clearly states the ICC is merely “complementary to national criminal jurisdictions,” meaning national courts have the first and most powerful sway over a case. The ICC can only take charge if the state’s judicial bodies are found to be unwilling or unable to genuinely carry out their mission.
Furthermore, states have the right to challenge, at any time, both the court’s jurisdiction and the admissibility of the case on the grounds that the individual is currently being, or has already been, investigated or prosecuted on the national level.
Despite the fact it could use these levers to effectively cripple any investigation one of its citizens faced, the United States, the same country that invaded Panama to arrest its leader and lead a (well-justified) NATO bombing campaign against sovereign Serbia, claims this is not enough.
Arguments that the structure of the court is flawed and prone to unchecked political motivations are disingenuous.
The electoral system for judges, based on a fair representation of each of the world’s regions and judicial systems, allows for only those candidates with qualifications to serve on the individual nation’s highest court, i.e. only Supreme Court candidates need apply.
To say these people, and the multi-layered prosecutorial and appeals system that they represent, will become nothing more than the tool of a single group’s agenda in opposition to the U.S. ignores the globalized nature of our world.
It is clear that many people in the world hate our government and way of life. But to posit that they are a majority, capable of controlling the levers of power in both international and state institutions spread across the globe is to be oblivious to the fact the majority of the world either currently abides by, or aspires to adopt, a free, democratic and generally capitalist system.
Additionally, the claim the ICC takes power away from the U.N. Security Council is tenuous.
A number of levers, including the prerogative to delay prosecutions or investigations almost indefinitely are available to it. Little creativity is required to understand how the Security Council can derail almost any ICC action.
Finally, all these points are moot when it is considered that if the U.S. perceives something as manifestly unjust, it can simply refuse to turn over whomever the court summons.
Over the past three years, we have tried to portray ourselves as the international moral authority with declarations of good and evil. Yet we erode that every time we come upon another set of rules we feel apply to everyone else but us.
We cannot continue to stand in the international arena and say – “These are good laws and you must abide by them, but we are special and therefore we don’t have to.”
The ICC is perhaps the world’s most admirable international institution in terms of its potential to achieve the goal of universal justice. While still a nascent body, it promises great things. We do wrong not only to ourselves, but to the entire world community, by not supporting it.
As individuals, people tend to respect only those leaders who play by the rules they themselves create. We continue to lose respect.
Aidan Leonard is a staff reporter for the Summit Daily News. He can be reached at
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