International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Round 1: Is the International Community Abandoning the Fight Against Impunity?

peace and justiceDavid Tolbert, President of ICTJ, opens the debate. He argues that there has been a “wrong turn on human rights generally and the fight against impunity specifically.” And despite institutional and normative progress in international justice, “powerful states often seem to be casting support to whichever group of killers best suits their interests, with only faint rhetorical nods to human rights.” Michael Ignatieff argues the “Yes” side and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein argues the “No” side.

Please read all three positions, and consider the following questions for your responses. (But feel free to comment on whatever interests you the most about this debate).

Which position do you find most persuasive? What evidence and statements best support their arguments? 

What standards do, and should, they use to evaluate the progress and effectiveness of international justice? 

Based on the critiques, what needs to change to ensure that impunity doesn’t persist? 

How can states and their leaders be convinced that “justice” is in their self-interest?

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20 responses to “Round 1: Is the International Community Abandoning the Fight Against Impunity?

  1. ckoos February 14, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    The ICTJ debate poses a demanding, but nevertheless crucial question for the continual advancement of justice around the globe. Unfortunately, I found Michael Ignatieff’s arguments most persuasive—that the international community has largely “retreated” from the fight against impunity and the pursuit of justice.

    It goes without saying that the creation of the ICC was one of “the most powerful” steps in the international “fight against impunity for international crimes”– as it quickly became the dominant system for promoting international justice. Nevertheless, the court faces countless jurisdictional, financial, and enforcement hurdles, which have thwarted it from achieving these global objectives.

    Both Opening Statements contend that “international justice survives only where it does not threaten the vital interests of powerful states.” This discrepancy, Ignatieff argues, has caused countless atrocities to go unpunished. Similarly, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein maintains that the constraints faced by the ICC have hindered its ability to promote justice in the most “deplorable” situations. All in all, the court’s inability to prosecute all perpetrators has contributed to impunity problems around the globe.

    So far, it seems as though the international community has done little to address the downfalls of the ICC—the most prominent proponent of international justice— reflecting their lack of a commitment to end impunity. As Ignatieff asserts, the “politics and power prevailing over international justice” now are “likely to do so in the future.” So long as the international community allows these issues to remain unresolved, “impunity will be punished only when it is in the interest of a powerful state.”

  2. samdawg94 February 15, 2015 at 11:33 am

    Unfortunately, I find Ignatieff’s argument to be more convincing. He gives numerous examples as to how the international court has failed to address atrocities and issues of impunity. Even though it is an accomplishment that 123 states ratified the Rome Statute, that does not mean justice is being achieved. Having an international court that is supported by many countries is only half the battle – enforcing international norms is arguably much more difficult. While Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein notes various tribunals, such as the ICTR and the ICTY, that have “achieved their limited mandates,” I think this has a whole other side to it. The ICC has addressed some human rights issues, but usually ones that receive media attention, as Ignatieff points out. The ICC has largely ignored other human rights abuses, including ones in Eastern Ukraine, Gaza, and Nigeria. And although I recognize that it is impossible to address every case of human rights abuse in the world, states and individuals are getting away with major atrocities in spite of the supposed international norm. This severely undermines the ICC’s credibility.

    In addition to simply ignoring some human rights abuses, even when the ICC does intervene, it has not been totally successful. The tension between maintaining state sovereignty and abiding to international standards has proved to be a difficult balance and has caused states to refuse to cooperate, making the ICC’s job infinitely more difficult. Despite my pessimistic observations, I also think there is hope for significant improvements if only the ICC is willing to address more cases and states are willing to cooperate, thereby giving the ICC more credibility.

  3. ncullen27 February 15, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    Like the two individuals who commented before me, I find Michael Ignatieff’s argument most persuasive. His main point is that international justice cannot be achieved, unless it involves the interest of a powerful state. This is essentially built into the ICC. As Ignatieff goes on to say, “International justice is necessarily and inextricably political, and it increases its jurisdictional reach only when it increases political support from states.” it is impossible to separate politics from the ICC as it currently stands. Its jurisdiction is built by state support, so by default the ICC loses some of it’s objective freedom and becomes, in essence, a political tool.

    While Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein argues that the fight for international justice will be riddled with set backs, it seems that intrinsic politicization is one that will only grow worse. In order to not be beholden to a major power, the ICC would need to be more independent from the Security Council, which seems to have the ultimate authority over the court. Even this, however, does not guarantee objectivity on the international field. The ICC is treaty based, and as mentioned before therefore relies on countries to sign on in order to expand its jurisdiction. Therefore state cooperation and manipulation of the court may also threaten its credibility.

    The ICC, as it stands, is a flawed system, but one that is important to try and improve. However, the only way that I see improvement to the criticisms that have been discussed is by trying to depoliticize it. The only way to do this would be to give it more independent authority. However, this of course brings up many of the issues that were brought up when it formed, namely to do with state sovereignty. There is no doubt in my mind that this organization will continue to be used as a political tool, unless there is some change in its ability to be independent. The difficulty lies in deciding which line to cross. Keep the system as is, with less worry of encroachment on state sovereignty, but at risk of being used as a political tool by those in power. Or, change the system to one where the ICC has more independent control, but run the risk of encroaching on state sovereignty.

  4. mcurle15 February 16, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    Today’s international community is able to see and address injustices and atrocity crimes. However, the same international community does not always comply with the fight against impunity. This is why I find Michael Ignatieff’s argument the most persuasive. I think Ignatieff’s best supporting statement on the lack of impunity is how politics and a country’s chase for power trump international justice.

    While I do agree with Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s argument that the fight on impunity takes time to mature and that it is not always linear, I still believe that the ICC is a rookie institution that has not mastered the most efficient way to fight impunity. Although there has been success with reconciliation and justice achieved in certain tribunals under the ICC, there are still major human rights abuses that are happening in the world that are going unnoticed or even worse, being noticed and ignored. The ICC lacks the authority to arrest high-level perpetrators because it is dependent upon domestic justice systems and the cooperation of countries to turn in criminals. Ignatieff points out the holes in the international justice system by addressing the many leaders that have performed atrocious human rights violations that are still roaming free (Bashir, Hariri, etc) due to their current positions in power.

    Clearly there cannot be a linear way of viewing progress with the ICC. The progress achieved in the ICTY and ICTR tribunals were substantial and a huge step forward in the international justice system. However, the ICC is easily subdued by a simple refusal of action in countries in today’s world. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of international justice, the ICC needs to ensure that countries stop shielding leaders that are high-level perpetrators of crimes against humanity.

    In order to ensure that impunity doesn’t persist, powerful states need to stop ranking their political interests over what is morally right. If victor’s justice and powerful politicians continue to triumph over justice, then the fight against impunity will always be out of reach. Yes, there have been steps in the right direction to notify the public that atrocities do happen and that perpetrators need to be held responsible, but countries need to give more respect to the ICC and cooperate with the international justice system regardless of their power status in the world.

  5. bconroy2015 February 16, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    I thought both Ignatieff and Hussein presented convincing arguments regarding the impunity debate. Although I side with Ignatieff’s position I would not go as far as saying that the international community has abandoned the fight against impunity. I think that there are several ways to measure the degree of progress being made in the fight; simply just looking at the successes and failures of the ICC is not enough. Hussein puts a lot of emphasis on the long-term and the “efforts” going into the fight against impunity. I think this is important to consider because the only reason that the impunity debate exists is because of the unparalleled awareness and sensitivity of the international community as a whole, to justice violations. Hussein refers to the multitude of Truth commissions that have taken place and those to me are evidence of a commitment to justice. The success of this commitment is yet to be determined but as of right now I would say that Ignatieff is right in that impunity is certainly winning.

    Two key points that Ignatieff refers to are the help that international prosecutors require in the battle against impunity and the importance of state interests in this process, which the first couple comments touched on. As we have discussed in class, the ICC lacks enforcement power. Without outside help in their investigations and prosecutions the “impunity” dimension will always be somewhat present. The most prominent example of this is the dropping of charges against Uhuru Kenyatta. As of right now, the only progress that can be made against impunity is when, as Ignatieff remarked, “state interests aligned momentarily with the interests of justice”. It is easy to say that the ICC is developing and it’s a long-term process but in reality the battle against impunity can only be won when justice is completely separated from political interests.

  6. jweather21 February 16, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    “International justice survives only where it does not threaten the vital interests of powerful states” – Michael Ignatieff

    Honestly, Michael Ignatieff is right. In the international community Justice is only important when it comes with no political ramifications for powerful states. As he pointed out at one point in his argument, the United States publicly released documentation of crimes against humanity and humans rights violations that would land war lords and political leaders and many less powerful countries in jail for years. Because none of the countries that Ignatieff mentioned in his argument have ratified the ICC’s Statue the ICC is rendered useless when prosecuting political and military leaders in these countries. Furthermore, the ICC will never be able to get a get a referral on any of the powerful countries because countries who support the ICC and have ratified the statute would not refer a powerful state out of fear of ruining their relations with them. The principle of victor’s justice still clearly prevails as impunity for the powerful still remains an unfixed problem as history clearly shows.

    • zbest2015 February 16, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      Although I wish this weren’t the case, I think that Michael Ignatieff is correct. His argument that “international justice only serves when it does not threaten the vital interests of powerful states” particularly resonated with me. Ultimately, states look out for their own interests, and this pervasive sense of self-preservation has become glaringly apparent in the case of international justice. Ignatieff makes it clear that despite near overwhelming shortcomings, international justice does exist, and the ICC remains a considerable force on the international stage. However, the court could be more effective if states and their leaders were willing and able to put aside personal and domestic ties.

      Although I think Ignatieff’s argument is ultimately the most convincing, I do think that Al-Hussein offers some compelling points. The perceived lack of international justice can be frustrating; however, Al-Hussein does help provide some perspective and context by reminding us that total reform of international law and the justice system is a massive feat and will take years to accomplish. Although the ICC has only been established for a relatively short period of time, it has made significant strides in proliferating international accountability, and the principle behind the court has drawn widespread support. As Al-Hussein articulates, “clearly, and sadly, violations continue to affect millions of people around the world. What has changed is that there is now a multi-layered construct that denounces these violations, almost in real time as they occur.” This is true and a step forward in the right direction; however, I think it highlights how much further we need to progress. When the international community “denounces” the atrocities being inflicted upon civilian in Syria, North Korea, Iraq, Sudan, and tens of other countries around the world, nothing is really accomplished. “Denouncing” doesn’t really accomplish anything tangible. “Denouncing,” in a way, just makes the international justice system seem more ineffective: some of the most powerful people in the world are acutely aware of heinous human rights abuses, but yet, even they lack the power to do any more than condemn these violations unequivocally.

  7. lsundstr February 17, 2015 at 8:37 am

    While both arguments present important realities regarding the continuing struggle to end impunity in the international justice system, as well as the significant progress that has been made in recent years, I found Michael Ignatieff’s perspective on the matter most compelling and convincing. His opinion that the political interests of powerful states often compromise the success and effectiveness of the practice of justice in the international community is supported by countless examples of violations of human rights committed by certain influential organizations and/or state bodies, that have either been justified or almost strategically ignored to protect their global reputation or standing. But this goes beyond victor’s justice in cases such as the publishing of US Senate reports detailing methods of torture used by the CIA to retain information and punish certain perpetrators or suspects since 9/11, and the explicit government approval for them to do so. The permission granted from US government officials to execute these abusive tactics have served as validation, justifying these violations of human rights as a necessary measure when coming from such authority; rather than as a measure of protection or security from high ranking officials that simply hold too much power to be argued with.

  8. tcheng2015 February 17, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Politics has and always will trump international justice because we are self-driven individuals looking to achieve security. There is something to be said about the fact that the world’s most influential states-the United States, Russia and China have not joined the ICC. They are not willing to give up their sovereignty and leave their fate to the decisions of the ICC.

    Michael Ignatieff uses the US as a prime example of a country driven to advocate for human rights yet explicitly violates all human rights standards to protect US soil. Following the tragedy of 9/11, the President, Congress, and the Department of Justice approved the use of torture because they depend on the CIA to keep the homeland safe. “International justice survives only where it does not threaten the vital interests of powerful states”.

    The ICC is a primary instrument in achieving international justice, but its ability to succeed is unknown. The ICC is dependent on whether permanent members of the Security Council are willing to assist the international prosecutor with intelligence and arrest. “Successful prosecutions occur in those instances where members of the Security Council agree that their interests are furthered by prosecutions and where states also find it in their interest to hand over delinquents to international prosecutors”.

    To ensure that impunity doesn’t persist the ICC needs to establish an international joint military power that has the ability to enforce decisions. For the sake of international justice, it may be beneficial to the ICC to establish a court system similar to the U.S. Congress and Senate- the bigger and more powerful a state, the more representatives there are within the ICC. This would provide an incentive for major political actors to join without the feeling of loss of sovereignty.

    In the words of EU officials, “Everyone is committed to the Court, but then comes reality”. If international justice was the priority of all states, it would have been achieved by now. The reality is, states are more focused on securing their position in international politics and justice will always come second.

  9. mjacobson565 February 18, 2015 at 9:27 am

    In the short term, there has been many setbacks to the ending of impunity and the pursuit of international justice. It seems (in many cases) that state’s interests often override the interests of those effected by War crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide; however, I tend to take the “long-term” approach that Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein took when he highlighted how the protection of human rights and accountability has developed over time.

    Commissions and the ICC have made massive contributions to the international community since the 1990s, including providing documentation for human rights violations that has put human rights and war crimes in the news, spreading the norm of accountability around the world. These things may be easy to take for granted, but in the early 20th century, human rights violations were committed all around the world during various conflicts (like the two World Wars and the Cold War) without permanent mechanisms for accountability for the victims and shaming for the perpetrators to prevent atrocities from happening in the future.

    Today, media, international organizations, like the ICC, and activists can all take a stand to denounce human rights violations. The ICC also contributes greatly to the proliferation of norms through its prosecution of perpetrators of human rights violations, helping to develop international law and show those in power around the world that they can be held responsible for their actions. It is true that the court is dependent on states for information and the apprehension of those indicted on crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide and must, to a certain extent, answer to the interests of states at time; however, this should not downplay the role that the ICC and other International Tribunals and Commissions have played (and well continue to play) to the ending of impunity for those most responsible for human rights violations.

  10. motoole9 February 19, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    Betty Murungi makes some great points that I think should be considered in answering whether or not the international community is abandoning the fight against impunity. Murungi leaves me asking myself: Does the international community have to be the body to lead the fight against impunity? Is it realistic to ask that the entire world join the fight? How effective can an international body, such as the ICC, really be in ensuring accountability for perpetrators of mass atrocities?

    Murungi’s points, to me, make a lot of sense. In order for peace to be durable, solutions must come from the local level. Changes need to happen domestically, where these atrocities have occurred, in order for real re-building to occur. Truth Commissions and human rights organizations working within a locality are strong alternatives to an international body that is plagued with political and jurisdictional restraints. By fostering national involvement and capacity-building, meaningful justice may be made for victims of these atrocities.

    This capacity-building on a domestic scale is something that has been missing in the fight against impunity. Murungi puts the blame on states for not doing enough domestically to bolster their court systems, thus making their failure to fight impunity look like the ICC’s problem. Complementarity will not mean anything, and cannot mean anything, until states build up their national justice systems so that they can be the ones to try perpetrators for acts of genocide, human rights violations, and war crimes. As Murungi argues, “The reality is that the fight against impunity will be irreversibly lost if not fought at the national level.” The fight must be national if it is to be a fight fought at all.

    In light of this, I am still inclined to say that the ICC can and should do more. Leaving justice entirely to states is potentially problematic and could lead to the unequal application of justice. In and of itself, I think the idea of the ICC is a powerful one. The fact that there is an international body serving as an upholder of the law of the world is, in my mind, a good precedent to set. Yet, without addressing the jurisdictional and political restraints facing the Court, and without states bolstering their own judicial systems to render them fit to try perpetrators, the fight against impunity will continue to appear abandoned. Perhaps if the Chief Prosecutor makes more use of her proprio motu powers, as Professor Tiemessen has argued in her work, justice by way of the ICC will be more even-handed. Coupled with states re-building their own judicial systems, this could be a powerful force against impunity.

  11. jsqim February 20, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    Whether one argues ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in this debate, we must take into account a few facts and harsh truths about the entire system of international justice, or simply international relations in general. For instance, the ICC went into effect in 2002, only 13 years ago. More importantly, the whole concept of international justice is a relatively young one. For hundreds of years, humans across the globe fought against one another with almost no consequences as long as they won.

    While international justice and international bodies that govern over such a concept to be ‘enforced’ are the morally right and appropriate measures, it seems rather hasty to me, for any one person to bring up a few examples, such as Kenyatta’s acquittal, the Islamic State’s brutal, public killings and US’ black sites and torture programs, and simply declare that the international community is not doing enough to solve problems.

    In my opinion, the first step to solving a problem is to recognize that such a problem exists. For most of human history, we did not; now, we have at least recognized that actions that have been accepted for so long (torture, various war crimes, executions of combatants, etc.) are no longer so. The Nuremberg Trials were only 60 years ago. Slavery, an equally, if not more appalling offense to human rights, took over 200 years to end just in the United States.

    For a new concept like international justice to succeed globally, there must be a change in thinking in the minds of heads of states, as well as people who support them. I believe there has not been enough time for such a change to take place, and in the meantime, the international community ought to continue its support to facilitate such a change, whether that is increasing the funding to various international organizations, raising awareness, etc.

  12. leckstei24 February 21, 2015 at 8:29 am

    After reading the both sides of the debate in conjunction with the guest commentators, I agree most strongly with and support the statements of Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Aryeh Neier, President Emeritus of the Open Society Foundations. Neier opens with acknowledging the points of views of both Hussein and Michael Igantieff, Professor and Human Rights Scholar but sheds light on their differences by alluding to the disagreement being a glass-half-full versus glass-half-empty argument. This is how I perceive the differences in opinion—Hussein sees the good in the work and believes in the positive continuation of human rights justice in the international community and Igantieff sees the faults with little hope for a positive international intervention on human rights atrocities. I particularly liked to read Neier’s remarks because instead of simply arguing whether the international community has had success in the battle against impunity, he calls for future action. In calling for another convention, similar to the one in 1998 in Rome, Neier implores the international community to make the fight against impunity without the influence of the politics of the United Nations and the strong influence of the P5 nations on the Security Council. I believe in this initiative and I think it is extremely important for the international community to overcome its political struggles and barriers in order to be united in the fight against impunity and human rights violations throughout the world.

  13. ckeefe2016 February 21, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    In his opening argument, David Tolbert opens up by discussing the recent failure to produce results when it comes to stopping massive human rights abuses and enforcing justice. In the 1990’s, the international community saw many progressive steps in the fight against impunity, but we have now reached a stage where a “wrong turn” has been taken. These setbacks are exemplified by attacks on the ICC (especially in Africa), and support by powerful states for whichever group suits their interest, rather than a concern for human rights abuses. Ultimately, Tolbert questions whether the fight against impunity has been abandoned and asks if there is a realistic solution to this problem.

    After analyzing both ends of the argument, I side with Michael Ignatieff, supporting the belief that there has been a “clear retreat in the fight against impunity, at least as it relates to heads of state”. Situations like Kenya, Rwanda, and Sudan have proven that it is extremely difficult to successfully investigate and arrest any perpetrators that carry heavy political influence, ranging from head of states to those who retain government support. Because of this problem, it seems that successful international prosecutions against human rights abusers will only be a result of “victors justice”. The ICC has fallen under much criticism for being an institution that is used as a political force, as some leaders will use the ICC to eliminate political enemies with referrals that provide accusations of human rights abuse. In an attempt to respond to criticism, former ICC Prosecutor Ocampo introduced the idea of a gravity threshold, which states that the seriousness of some crimes is much worse than others. While it is true that there may be a higher gravity for some crimes, the gravity threshold still doesn’t cover the use of the ICC as an instrument to acquire political power and enforce victor’s justice.

    In the opposing argument, Al Hussein discusses all the small progressive steps that have been made to fight international human rights abusers. Despite the struggles with prosecuting heads of states, and those they protect, today, he argues that international investigations have put several of these tragedies on an international scope, where otherwise the world may be unaware of these mass crimes against humanity. Concerning this matter, I believe that through social media and increased technology, people across the world would still have available information to become knowledgeable about these issues without help from the international law. As for the current problems the ICC is experiencing, I believe that until the largest states back this institution and it becomes powerful enough to prosecute political leaders, international law will still face these difficult challenges and will lack strength in the fight against impunity.

  14. CRuj February 22, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    Although Michael Ignatieff’s arguments are very persuasive, I find Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s side more compelling. The long-term approach emphasizes the protection of human rights and accountability in a larger time frame. The court has seen many setbacks, for example Ignatieff gives examples as to how the international court has failed to address atrocities and issues of impunity. He also argues that the international community has withdrawn from the fight against impunity and the pursuit of justice. The main idea is that international justice cannot succeed without the interest of a powerful state. While all of this is true, the ICC’s mission to overcome all of this. The court is still relatively young and growing. It needs time to develop into a stronger international system. I tend to take Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s argument that the fight on impunity takes time and is not linear.

    The creation of ICC has become a dominant system for promoting international justice. The court has issues that prevent it from global objectives. One criticism of the court is states’ interests. The court is very politicized and states’ interests can take part in the decision of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Politics is heavily influenced with the ICC so therefore it can loose its impartiality, because it needs state support. Its issues include jurisdictional, financial, and enforcement problems. Many states support the international court but enforcing the international norms is much harder. The court’s inability to prosecute all perpetrators has contributed to impunity problems around the globe. The ICC only addresses some cases, and sometimes is not always successful.

    All in all it is easy to criticize the court but I stand by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s argument. I believe that with any system, even those that work seemingly well to serve justice has flaws. For example take the US legal system, in light of recent social justice the public has highlighted the flaws in our system. I believe that the purpose and mission of the court is stronger than it’s immediate issues. I recognize Ignatieff’s arguments and think that they need to be addressed, but as a global community fighting for justice, we need to believe in the long-term approach of the court.

  15. tlunn February 22, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    Of the three arguments presented, I agree most with Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. While there are clear gaps that Ignatieff pointed out – such as for ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Syria – these are more or less necessary. The international community has observed that attempting to intervene in ongoing conflicts, for instance in Uganda, may end up extending them, increases the magnitude of violence, and ensures a one-sided, victor’s justice approach. Al Hussein takes a more optimistic, yet even-handed approach. His opening sentence – “All the fights worth fighting involve long-term struggles, hard work and many forces at play” seems to be what those on the other side most often ignore. The Rome Statute was signed less than 17 years ago, which is incredibly recent in the grand scheme of things. And yet, Al Hussein presents examples – such as the ICC, ICTY/ICTR, and, notably, national courts that have made much progress in almost no time at all. Al Hussein’s comments on the long-term implications of these and other sources of transitional justice, such as truth reports in Brazil, seem to show a more realistic approach than to say that impunity can be eliminated in less than two decades’ time. As he points out – issues such as slavery have been tackled for centuries yet have not been eradicated.

    The clear tactic for evaluating success of justice is the number and quality, so to speak, of prosecutions. While these figures are admittedly important, they only show a fraction of what is actually going on. Instead, polling of victims and current residents of the effected areas could show the true results, if justice rather than frivolous punishment is truly the goal of the international system.

    In order for justice to truly be achieved, the international community will need to abandon politics and work with states and citizens. This is clearly not an easy task. However, it seems like punishing those most guilty only can do so much, especially if the impunity gap still continues to exist. The ICC needs to take into account survivors and cultures, as well as all sides of a conflict, in order to properly conduct investigations.

    Justice is an issue that can be very much in a state’s interest. In order for economic and political progression, justice seems inherently necessary. Obviously this is in citizens’ best interests and may be hard for dictators to comprehend. However, in the more successful cases of justice – such as the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda – this is very clear.

    Overall, the ICC and overall international justice system is not perfect. It likely never will be, especially not for a very long time. However, to immediately write it off is irresponsible and ignores the benefits that can and do occur from the ICC and other systems of justice.

  16. natreid7 February 23, 2015 at 10:32 am

    I think what is most interesting about these arguments is the balance between concrete progress and ideological progress in international transitional justice. Michael Ignatieff argues that concrete progress is being undermined by political dynamics. However Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussien argues that there has been considerable progress in the ideological arena of international justice. I find both Betty Murungi and Aryeh Neier’s arguments the bridge between the two. I think the complexity of the issue on whether the international community is abandoning the fight against impunity or not is an issue that cannot be pigeonholed into either a yes or no response.

    With the ratification of the ICC, I believe that one cannot say the fight is being totally abandoned. That is not a fair statement. However, it is fair to say that the court has not been effective, and is weakened by different political and jurisdictional issues. I believe with Betty Murungi when she writes, “I propose that rather than bemoan the retreat by the international community in the fight against impunity, we must look at other viable alternatives.” I think these viable alternatives are a stronger focus on strengthening domestic justice in conjunction with international justice methods. It is one thing for idealist, brilliant international justice scholars to fight for the fight against impunity—and it is quite another for victims, normal citizens, and local, domestic governments to demand impunity.

    It is true that International justice is at the whim of larger world political dynamics, and does have a hard time implementing justice when the powers that be don’t cooperate. However, even if international politics did get out of the way, domestic support is still the most important thing. Without domestic level support, no justice at the international level can be done. In order to account for all of these variables I agree with Aryeh Neir and his final call to arms, “We need a new infusion of thought, energy, and effort to try to make a good idea on the idea that accountability is crucial if efforts to limit such abuses are to make progress.” This new infusion of energy needs to come from international powers as well as domestic ones.

  17. daniel2533 February 23, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    Of the positions articulated on the impunity debate, I cannot say that I wholeheartedly agree with either. While Michael Ignatieff’s position on the matter is (to quote many of my peers) “persuasive” at times, his language would indicate that an unbecoming level of pessimism (masquerading as a severe sense of pragmatism) overburdens him. On the other hand, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s opening paragraph reminding us that “all the fights worth fighting involve long-term struggles” seems elementary, idealistic, and corrosive to the efforts of hundreds of NGOs and civil society organizations struggling to achieve a modicum of progress in the darkest places in our world. What neither of them consider, and which I find particularly intriguing and important to the debate at hand, are the particularities of the processes by which developing nations integrate themselves into an increasingly global economy and political community tied together by notions of international law that are themselves new and currently variable.

    To clarify, I would like to make a note of Michael Ignatieff’s focus on the collapse of external political support for the ICC in Africa. He states that external support “is essential if international justice is to win the battle inside a country to align public opinion behind international prosecution.” He blames the lack of external support (from African states) on the international community’s (Africa’s) inaction and shortage of support for ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. What he doesn’t consider is that these very same states, as most of the developing world, are currently coming to terms with the implications of embedding themselves in global political and justice institutions, even as they attempt to define their modern identities within an international framework. This process of self-identification is colored by anti-imperialism and deeply entrenched emotions regarding the West’s interference on the African continent–the historicity of which cannot be negated as an important factor in the manner that they view international justice. This is all to say, of course, that we must take into account Africa’s strong desire to present a united front to the globe regarding issues of internationality, sovereignty, and power when considering their supposed flouting of the principle of universal jurisdiction to which they agreed to abide by in 1998.

    Al Hussein makes a slight nod to this complication when he states that the “African Union’s initiative to expand the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights could potentially broaden the net to hold individuals accountable for international crimes.” Conversely, the objection might be made that this collapse of universal standards of justice must be restrained and that any regional attempts to define justice differently may undermine the very purpose of international criminal law itself. The logic follows, and that is why such an event cannot be suffered to occur.

    Thus, what is needed before we begin debating the supposed abandonment of the international community’s fight against impunity is a critical review of the manner in which developing nations, and African states in particular, view universal jurisdiction and Western modes of thought regarding justice, since this tension underlies the epidemic “abandonment of the fight against impunity.” David Tolbert notes, “some voices may posit that the fight against impunity is not the right lens and that, instead, economic, social, and cultural rights should come to the fore and progress on human rights should be measured in these terms.” While there is a definitiveness in this statement (regarding the absolute utility of economic, social, and cultural rights as tools to achieve international justice) that I do not agree with, I do think that perhaps equality on those planes–or at least an understanding of what equality on those planes mean across a spectrum of cultures–is a necessary process to be undertaken as we continue the work of developing international criminal law.

  18. dwanger93 February 23, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    Both Ignatieff and Al Hussein present extremely compelling arguments with regards to the current effectiveness of the fight against international impunity. Although Michael Ignatieff does present many specific examples of how the international community has struggled with its fight against impunity, I must agree with Al Hussein’s argument.

    As Al Hussein states, it is a bit premature to declare that the international community has completely abandoned the fight against impunity. Justice for war crimes and genocide is still a very new idea only dating back to World War II and world community is still figuring out how to accurately find out facts about atrocities and the best way to prosecute such perpetrators.

    I also agree with Al Hussein’s point that the creation of the ICC has been a significant step in the right direction for the fight against impunity. I will acknowledge that the court does have some flaws, such as the fact that it is heavily politicized (influenced by specific state’s interests), which can cause it to seem impartial as well as various other problems with its financing and ability to implement/enforce their decisions. Despite all of these flaws, the mere fact that the ICC was created and has sustained for a somewhat substantial number of years is a giant step in the right direction for the international community as these problems are fixable, which will create a stronger force against impunity. Of course the international system for the fight against impunity will never be perfect, just like any form of domestic government, but the world is moving in the correct direction, and it is naïve to think that the world has turned its back on the fight against impunity, or that the perpetrators committing crimes today will not answer for their atrocities eventually.

  19. ep2015 February 24, 2015 at 12:17 am

    I know that the conversation has progressed quite a lot over the last couple weeks, but I still find issue with some of the points made by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Al Hussein is arguing that no, the international community has not abandoned the fight against impunity. He points to the establishment of the ICC, the ICTY and ICTR, The Human Rights Council, and several Commissions of Inquiry as examples of the progress being made to continue the fight against impunity. But, as we’ve read many times, the successes of these examples are constantly under debate. Specifically regarding Al Hussein’s argument, he places huge value on the reports produced by Commissions of Inquiry. He states, “these reports are crucial: they are discussed, domestically and internationally, openly and behind the scenes, in newspapers and on websites.” I do agree that reports are often crucial in starting conversation and establishing truths, but I think that Al Hussein has grossly miscalculated how much people actually care about these reports. It has been proven time and time again that, specifically in the US, the public is incredibly ignorant about international affairs. These reports are relevant and important to a small community of human rights activists and policymakers, but fail to reach a broad community. Thus, the argument that these reports have brought the necessary widespread media coverage and international attention which aids in the fight against impunity is weak, at best.

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