International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Possible Presidential Debate Hot Topic: “Rewards for Justice” at the ICC?

As we head into our course unit on the International Criminal Court—and approach Monday’s foreign policy-focused presidential debate—it is interesting to examine the institution’s current standing with the United States, perhaps the most notable nonsignatory of the Rome Statute. According to a piece of news referenced in a recent post on Justice in Conflict (a blog maintained by a current PhD student in International Relations at the London School of Economics), the US appears to be inching towards a closer relationship with the ICC. After expanding the reach of its Rewards for Justice program (which offers significant monetary compensation to those who provide information leading to the arrest and/or prosecution of suspected terrorists) to cover those individuals indicted by the ICTY and ICTR, the US may take its involvement in the realm of international justice one step further by including ICC indictees on its list of those notorious enough to warrant coverage by Rewards for Justice.

This (potential) policy decision by the United States comes at a time of domestic political flux, considering the contentiousness of the upcoming presidential election. While the topics sure to dominate Monday’s debate will be all things Afghanistan and Libya, a better gauge of each candidate’s foreign policy outlook may very well be where they stand on the US’s role in facilitating international justice. As Justice in Conflict’s Mark Kersten points out, the relationship between the United States, though improving, has been rocky (to say the least) from the start; in today’s increasingly globalized world, though, the US cannot afford (in my opinion) to formally (at least on paper) disengage from transitional justice efforts. How each candidate would aim to further improve (or completely dismantle) US relations with the ICC—and US involvement in international justice efforts in any arena—could be more telling of the core of their foreign policy views than their ability to spew out death toll statistics.

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7 responses to “Possible Presidential Debate Hot Topic: “Rewards for Justice” at the ICC?

  1. mfcarpenter October 21, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    I agree with so much that you’ve said here — you’ve hit on the real crux of a long standing debate: the role of international affairs in foreign policy, and vice versa. It’s interesting (and seemingly impossible) to try to interpret the candidates’ stand on issues related to transitional justice rather than the questions more pressing to the American public. My guess is that when candidates are preparing their platforms that define their campaign, they don’t often think about their stand on transitional justice — but in truth that core principle could determine the perspective each candidate will take on issues of foreign policy that require immediate action and responsibility. I wouldn’t even try to begin to figure that out (it could be a book…) but I wanted to agree with your statement that the candidates’ stand on international justice would be much more revealing about true foreign policy goals.

  2. louisemcl October 21, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    I also think you make a good point here. In light of the current presidential campaign, your post raises an interesting question, which is: what kind of political factors or circumstances, either domestic or international, would need to be in place to make the U.S.’s participation in transitional justice politically desirable for either candidate? Or, for that matter, either administration once in office? Clearly, the ICC is not a pressing electoral issue by any stretch of the imagination, and so it’s hard to imagine that U.S. involvement would come about from the public’s demands. I am curious, then, what kind of political factors would draw the U.S. into a greater role in transitional justice worldwide.

  3. sarahupp14 October 21, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    Both of you have brought up valid points that go a step beyond what I initially wrote & develop the idea further–which I very much appreciate. Your questions in particular, louisemcl, legitimately have me sitting here trying to come up with answers! And while I know this issue won’t actually come up tomorrow, I really wish it would.

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  5. mjbarnes1 October 22, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Unfortunately, Louise, I think while politicians continue to delineate between national security and promoting transitional justice (and human rights more broadly) there will never be any kind of political factors that will enhance American participation in the ICC or other protection mechanisms e.g. CRC. And sometimes, I believe this may be the way that ICC proponents advocate US participation. Too often the protection of human rights and justice are framed as being intrinsically and domestically beneficial for transitioning states. Instead, I think transitional justice, US ICC participation and the worldwide protection of human rights must be framed as being beneficial to the international community because they have the potential to directly improve national security. (This report focuses on the relationship between national security and human rights but is still worth a read.)

    For example, the violations of prisoners’ rights at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo have the tarnish the reputation of the US and increase anti-American resentment in communities, especially since there was little outreach about the defendants’ American trials (probably because the sentencing was minimal and insubstantial). Proper justice in the ICC would help to combat anti-American attitudes by showing that the US is held to the same international standards as other states. However, until this complementary status between national security and transitional justice/human rights is brought to the forefront, I think, American participation in the ICC will languish at the bottom of the foreign policy barrel.

  6. smshetty October 22, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    The low probability of transitional justice and the ICC being discussed at tonight’s debate brings to the fore another question: how is something like American exceptionalism and sovereignty reconciled with the universal aims of such institutions? When the two candidates spar about their respective foreign policy beliefs tonight, they will be operating on the premise that our country is bound by principles and norms that are perhaps not shared by the countries with which we wage war. This principle of having the “moral high ground” fuels many interventionist policies, but it’s rarely analyzed in the context of transitional justice, where it often determines the model and structure of delivering justice.

    In other words, accepted superpowers like America, when dealing with issues of transitional justice, are dealing with issues that may challenge their fundamental composition: how can they simultaneously adhere to the private interests of superpowers and the universal interests of transitional justice? This conflict is aptly represented throughout our history, where we have had positive diplomatic relations with countries often being globally criticized for human rights violations, government oppression, etc. These relations are obviously rooted in our own benefits, whether they be couched in the context of national security, domestic prosperity, or economic collaboration. Such relations would be strained if we wholeheartedly committed to a set, concrete system of international transitional justice, such as the example of the ICC.

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