An Imperfect World for International Justice – Paul Fry

Let’s be honest here. In a perfect world, no prosecutor should take political factors into consideration when deciding who to investigate and who to prosecute. But we don’t live in a perfect world; far from it. Since the International Criminal Court is “the world’s most serious attempt at achieving international justice” (Bosco 1), it needs to be treated seriously. It needs to have its survival protected.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) should be an impartial, independent, and apolitical institution free of manipulation. It should also receive funding and support, and in the international framework in which we live in that funding and support comes from member states. The ICC has no enforcement mechanisms of its own; it relies on willing states to provide both personnel to apprehend criminals as well as intelligence, and requires official permission from states to investigate within their borders (Bosco). To say that the ICC works independently from states is to ignore these truths and many more.

This isn’t to say that the ICC isn’t a unique and special institution. “Its ability to investigate and issue arrest warrants for even senior government officials is unprecedented. At the same time, states have fewer means to control its activities than in other international courts” (Bosco 6). The court has made vast headway into the realm of international norms and universal rights and justice simply through its creation, let alone its work; ideas which challenge those of state sovereignty. But it is exactly because of this that the ICC should be protected within the political world in which we live in.

As former prosecution coordinator for the ICC Alex Whiting said, “We operate in a political world and all the cases we do are highly politically charged and our institution is politically charged. You can’t let those aspects govern your decisions but you can’t be oblivious to them either”. The ICC needs to pick its battles wisely or risk losing support from states, particularly powerful states who hold sway in the international community (whether they are member states of the ICC or not) and that can easily marginalize the ICC.

The ICC relies heavily on intelligence and evidence from states in its legal proceedings, as well as military and police support in enforcing its arrest warrants. Without support from states, especially powerful states with global reach, all the ICC can do is indict criminals. If the ICC cannot follow-through and actually arrest the individuals it indicts and then try them successfully in court using evidence made available to them, then it has failed as an institution because it has accomplished nothing.

The ICC needs to pick its battles, and it needs to do so with political considerations in mind. It needs to do this to survive, because its very survival aids in the creation and development of international norms of justice and human rights. Every success that can be laid at the ICCs feet gives it more credibility, which in turn leads to more power, more sway, and more influence. Cementing its position in the world today might, in the end, lead to a less imperfect world in the future.


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