International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Romney’s Solution

Romney’s exact words during last week’s presidential debate (ostensibly on foreign policy) were:

“I’d make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it.”

Politically effective? Yes. He is promising something that sounds unique – seemingly distinct from (and more leader-sounding than) Obama’s policy, without committing himself to anything even remotely different.

And parts of Romney’s statement do, believe it or not, make sense.  There was indeed a Genocide Convention that America is party to. It names, in Article III, the crimes that can be punished, among them: direct and public incitement to commit genocide. Furthermore, though its unclear if Romney as president could unilaterally get Ahmadinejad indicted in an international tribunal, it’s certainly a possibility.

But beyond those basics, Romney’s plan of action making little sense. For starters, it’s unclear exactly what Romney would be indicting Ahmadinejad for. When Romney has spoken of indicting Ahmadinejad in the past, he usually refers to the words “I will wipe Israel off the map,” but this hardly meets the bar of “direct and public incitement,” the language used in both the Genocide Convention and the Rome Statute.

Furthermore, it is not clear where Romney would try Ahmadinejad. His advisors claim he was referring to the “world court” which, in this context, could really only mean the International Criminal Court, but the ICC has very limited power over Iran. Since Iran is not a member state of the ICC, the ICC would need a reference from the UN Security council to try any matter committed on Iranian soil. Such a reference would require the support of Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and the U.S.

Even if a President Romney were capable of rallying the support of the other four countries, there’s no reason to believe he would want to. His adviser, John Bolton, has a long history of working against the ICC. If Romney has a different opinion, he certainly hasn’t said so.

Yet, the most important question to be asked about Romney’s plan is not whether it’s feasible, it’s why bother. An indictment of Ahmadinejad would amount to little more than a show trial unless Ahmadinejad could be captured first. That is, itself, a problem with no present solution. Maybe Romney shouldn’t be offering plans that presuppose an already-imprisoned Ahmadinejad; maybe he should be thinking of ways for us to get that far.


One response to “Romney’s Solution

  1. Alana Tiemessen October 30, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    I think the question of “why bother” is an interesting and fair one. Beyond legal obligations, there are obviously principled/moral and pragmatic/strategic reasons to prosecute genocide crimes. But in this case, if prosecuting Ahmadinejad for genocide has no or deleterious effect on conflict resolution w/ Iran….how can policymakers be convinced? Particularly on a charge of incitement and no actual act of genocide has taken place.

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