In the Eyes of the Beholder: The Legitimacy of International Justice to Non-State Actors
November 4, 2012
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As we’ve seen in the ICC case study examples in class, the benchmark of success for international justice efforts seems to be the system’s capabilities when it comes to indicting, arresting, and prosecuting former or sitting state officials (in some cases, even heads of state). Moreover, it is those indictments against state officials that stir up the most controversy in the transitional justice and human rights community. That being said, the ICC has, of course, issued arrest warrants for rebel leaders as well. A question emerges, however, when we look to the legitimacy of international justice mechanisms such as the ICC in the eyes of non-state actors.
In the case of Syria, for example, there has been growing international pressure for an ICC investigation into the crimes committed by the state under the Assad regime. Evidence of atrocities committed by rebel groups has very recently come to the forefront of the news as well, though. This situation brings to light a sense of tension in the pursuit of international justice.
Looking at cases in states that have self-referred their situations to the ICC, we see that it is often difficult to bring charges up against governments whose cooperation is necessary to the gathering of information in investigations. In a case such as Syria, however, there is little doubt in the international community that the actions of the government must be investigated (even though Syria is notably not a state party to the ICC). The question will be, though, whether or not the violent actions of rebel groups will also be perceived as worthy of investigation and legal action. Here arises the ultimate question: How do non-state actors view international justice institutions? Do they feel they are not bound by the international norms that their governments have subscribed to, either because the state has violated such rights standards, or (more broadly) because they see the actions of their state as wholly illegitimate to begin with? Looking back to Syria, we must remember that the nation is not a state party to the ICC, therefore making this latter question somewhat less applicable. Nevertheless, considering the ever-growing role that non-state actors play in global politics, the broader issue of the legitimacy of international justice in the eyes of these non-state actors will take on increasing importance as we continue to use the deterrence factor as an argument in favor of transitional justice mechanisms.