Don't Panic! August 07 2003

Your war questions answered

What is the International Criminal Court and why is the U.S. opposed to it?

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups — the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.

(Dramatic pause)

With court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo's pronouncement last month that he intends to have those responsible for the mass murders in Congo's Ituri province investigated and punished, the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, finally got cookin'. The cool kids call it the ICC.

The court was actually founded way back in July 1998 in Rome. Do you remember the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court? Me too. It was there that representatives from 120 countries established the first permanent international court designed to go after the worst of the worst — people who commit war crimes and genocide.

At this point, you're no doubt saying, "Wait just a minute there, Andisheh. The ICC isn't the first international court! What about the International Court of Justice, founded in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations?"

Well, the International Court of Justice settles disputes only between nations. It doesn't prosecute individuals.

Say, for example, West Germany and East Germany paid Portugal to photograph their October 1990 reunification wedding ceremony. Let's also say that during all of the festivities that Portugal drank a little too much schnapps and accidentally exposed all the film. If Germany demanded its money back, but Portugal refused, they could then take the dispute to the International Court of Justice to resolve it.

If Germany hired me to photograph the wedding and I, say, killed 12,000 of the wedding guests and fled to Tanzania, became its dictator and started killing more people, that's where the ICC could step in.

On Dec. 31, 2000, while the rest of us were getting drunk, President Clinton signed us on to the court. It was a nearly meaningless gesture because Clinton knew that the Senate would not ratify the treaty and that President-to-be Bush, who was gonna take office in three weeks, wasn't interested. President Bush effectively unsigned the treaty and so the U.S. refuses to participate. We have also bullied as many of our "allies" as possible to granting Americans immunity from the court and have cut off aid to several nations who have not.

The reason that we give for not liking the court is that we want to protect U.S. peacekeepers serving abroad from politically motivated prosecutions. It's all well and good, Bush & Co. agree, to try to prosecute war criminals like Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic (on trial now at a special court set up exclusively for war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia), but leave our boys alone.

Another reason, one that our leaders understandably don't like to mention, is that they want to protect themselves from prosecution. A couple of years ago while visiting Paris, our former Secretary of State and perpetual world-class jackass Henry Kissinger was summoned by a French judge who wanted to question him about his illegal support of the group that eventually overthrew Chile's democratically elected government in 1973. The ICC cannot prosecute for things that happened before 2002, so Kissinger is safe from it. However, Bush wants to make sure that down the road some French Judge Judy, by the power vested in her by the ICC, doesn't give Cheney and Rumsfeld cinq to huit with time off for bon behavior for the Iraq invasion.

Critics of the U.S.'s opposition to the court say that our refusal to participate in the court even though we're constantly on our high horse about everyone else following international law makes us hypocrites and undermines the court. France and the U.K. both have lots of peacekeepers abroad, but they've got no problem with the court. And besides, the court has ignored all of the complaints put before it so far about the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The White House's response to those points is essentially, "Yeah, so what?" If there's one thing we know about George W. Bush, it's that international cooperation is about as high on his list as reading.


More By This Writer


Monday July 2, 2012 10:14 am EDT
Fourth of July has devolved into a mindless national block party. Here's what we should do about it. | more...


Wednesday September 7, 2011 04:30 am EDT
Ten years later, a TV terrorpalooza rings hollow | more...


Tuesday September 7, 2010 09:11 am EDT
In the last-ever 'Don't Panic' column, we talk foreign policy writing cliches. | more...


Thursday August 26, 2010 02:42 pm EDT
The Iraq war is over in the same way that daytime is over if you close your curtains. | more...


Tuesday August 24, 2010 12:04 am EDT
Maybe Google Translator should add a Slang-to-English option, too? | more...
Search for more by Andisheh Nouraee

[Admin link: Don't Panic! August 07 2003]

Spider for Don't Panic! August 07 2003