International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

The United States and the ICC

Mark Kersten recently wrote an article on the Justice in Conflict blog that I believe complements our in class discussion on whether or not the United States should, or will ever sign the ICC treaty.

Kersten writes that “It appears that the United States is inching towards a much closer legal, political and institutional relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC).” For example he writes that there are whispers on capital hill of extending the rewards for justice program to individuals wanted by the ICC.

The rewards for justice program gives monetary rewards for individuals who help apprehend terrorist suspects. It has, though, been used in the past to help apprehend subjects wanted by the ITCY and the ITCR. This kind of program, it seems, would be generally supported by most in our class. It gives the ICC a valuable monetary and intelligence resource, and represents the United States sincerest efforts to assist in establishing transnational and transitional justice around the globe.

My concern, though, is not that this program would harm the ICC, I agree that it will be very beneficial to court, instead I worry that programs like this are used as a justification for the United States not signing the ICC treaty. If the US is serious about supporting global justice, and deterring human rights abuses, it should not simply help when it is convenient. While I agree that signing the ICC treaty is not in the best political self-interest of the nation, I do not believe that self interest supersedes an ethical obligation to justice, which the United States claims it stands for. If people are worried that American leaders will get tried for war crimes, especially in instances of drone strikes, than maybe we should stop using them. Surely there are ways to protect the national security of the country without breaking the fundamental human rights laws outlined in the Rome statute.

What do you guys think? Do you think it is good enough that the United States help the ICC only when it is the nation’s best political interest? Or do you think that the United States, if it believes in the justice goals outlined in the Rome Statute, has an ethical obligation to oblige by those same fundamental human rights norms, even if it is an inconvenience in America projecting its hegemonic power internationally?

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3 responses to “The United States and the ICC

  1. gkitamura November 6, 2012 at 10:10 am

    I find myself believing that the United States is not and will not be ready for full acceptance for many years or unless we lose our hegemonic position and outlook towards the world. If we look to the examples of the US being involved in international initiatives that were guided towards more idealized goals then a variety of requirements would make it seem very unlikely. The few that come to mind are the creation of the League of Nations, United Nations, Nuremberg Trials, Tokyo Trials, etc. For the United States to be involved in these kinds of initiatives require particularly traumatic world events like a World War or the holocaust. It is only in a situation like this, where something has so shocked the American psyche, that I could see the United States accepting the Rome Statute. Unfortunately, we have seen with the occurrence of heinous war crimes and genocides after the 40’s that this is incredibly difficult to achieve.
    There are arguments to be made for and against the American acceptance of the ICC. Putting that aside for a moment, I think the Rewards for Justice program’s larger meaning is worth focusing on. I agree with Alex’s argument that this represents a dangerous means for justifying America not ratifying the Rome Treaty. If you are going to support universal justice in the form of the ICC you cannot only accept it when it is convenient and in-line with American interests. More bluntly, if you are advocating American acceptance of the ICC, then this is a kind of exceptional half-acceptance of the mission of the institution does more harm than good. It undermines the meaning of these international courts in the long run; they become more susceptible to the political whims of the United States. The tough part is that the ICC may not be able to get the individuals they charge with crimes without a program like this. It changes from a political limitation by accepting American help to an economic and legitimacy limitation by not being able to apprehend these criminals. Do you think that the ICC would be able to still prosecute these criminals if they rejected all help from countries that haven’t accepted the Rome Statute? Is accepting this help hurting the ICC’s goal of being non-politicized and pursuing fair judicial proceedings?

  2. Brian Wilkinson November 12, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    While it certainly seems hard to argue with the idea that the US is creeping towards a closer relationship with the ICC, I think it is going much to far to say the US is ready for full membership.

    I feel the US extending the rewards for justice program to ICC fugitives is a logical next step in the relationship they have with the court. The US has softened their stance towards the ICC in recent years, allowing a referral for Sudan to pass through the UN Security Council, and participating in meeting of Rome Statute party states. Offering monetary rewards to those who help find fugitives of justice is a nice intermediary between simply supporting the ICC investigating atrocities and actually putting US troops in harm’s way.

    It seems flawed to argue the US would use this as justification for not joining the ICC – there are countless other reasons, discussed in class and the readings, that they would refrain from joining. If the US believes it can do the most good by assisting the ICC while remaining a non-party, then that’s the path they should take.

    • alexdavis073192 November 13, 2012 at 12:01 am

      Brian, thank you for the thoughtful response. And I would agree that the United States is not yet ready for entry into the ICC. I also agree that programs similar to the rewards for justice program are beneficial to international justice. My main concern, though, is purely from an ethical prospective. In particular, what I am asking is: “Realist balance of power politics aside, does the United States have an ethical obligation to join the ICC.”

      I would argue that we do. I argue this for a couple reasons. As I said in my original post, it is clear that the United States accepts a premise of universal human rights; i.e, that there are some rights that apply transnationally and transculturaly to all people. If the United States agrees with the cascading norms which define the ICC’s Rome statute, which I believe we do, then we should join, not simply to protect and strengthen an important international justice institution, but also to prevent our leaders from committing acts which are abhorrent the supposed universal human rights we believe in.

      For example, in class, we mentioned that drone strikes, and aggressive war, are two issues which United States leaders could potential be prosecuted for in the ICC, and that because of our unique hegemonic position in the international structure, joining the ICC could diminish our power. I was suggesting that this argument ignores the fact that in some cases, the United States is harming civilian innocents when it does not have to, and that the United States is committing acts that do not always reflect our liberal, human rights conscious ethic.

      My final point might not have been as clear as I would have wished. I was not suggesting that the rewards for justice program is the only justification for not joining the ICC. Instead I was suggesting that in some ways forming a closer and closer relationship with the ICC, without actually signing the Rome Statute, creates a moral entrepreneurship that serves as a lynchpin for the argument that we are fulfilling our ethical obligations to universal human rights, even when we are not. I believe this type of relationship creates a moral capital which allows the United States to skirt, albeit in very few cases, our ethical obligation to international justice norms. By signing the ICC Rome Statute, the United States would not just be a leader in the international community when it is convenient, but instead would also hold itself accountable to international justice norms that are making the world a better place.

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