International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: United States

US and International Justice

Is the US’ relationship with international justice good strategy, or unethical hypocrisy?

Should the United States join the International Criminal Court? What are the advantages and disadvantages for the ICC if the US were to join?

Let the debate begin…


Justice for ISIS Atrocities

yazidi-womenA recent New York Times / Associated Press article explains that war crimes investigators have collected enough evidence for a viable prosecution of ISIS atrocities–specifically ISIS’ kidnapping of women to sell as sex slaves. This is one among many crimes in the region, including potential genocide against Yazidis, torture, indiscriminate killings, etc. And, groups like the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, have spent years, at great risk, collecting evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Assad regime, rebels, and ISIS.

There’s just one problem…who has the political will to create a tribunal?

What do you make of the arguments for and against a tribunal for ISIS crimes? What aspects of this story do you find most compelling?



The White House tolerates an atrocity in Syria


Tuesday evening, The Washington Post reported that the United States acted illogically in response to the attack on UN humanitarian aid trucks in Syria the day prior. Although the Red Cross and UN officials suggested a war crime had been committed, Secretary of State John Kerry refused to give up on the US’s tentative relationship with Russia ― one of the parties suspected to be responsible for the horrific bombing. The State Department recorded Kerry declaring that the previously discussed cease-fire agreement, clearly violated by this vicious act, was “not dead” and that talks with Russia should continue. There is abundant evidence that the aid convoy, distinctly marked “humanitarian”, had not deployed before those parties involved in the conflict had been notified of its incoming presence. Russian and Syrian officials deny any and all responsibility for Monday’s attack, but contrary to their unconvincing testimony, there is little doubt about their involvement at this point. How alarming is it that our government is willing to show an overwhelming level of tolerance for such abhorrent atrocities for the sake of protecting a proposed alliance with Russia, the alleged perpetrator of this attack?

Native American Genocide

As Genocide was discussed during class it was apparent that the actual definition written for the crime is quite vague. This leaves the crime’s circumstances up for some interpretation, which can allow further discussion top take place about what genocide really is and what events embody the crime. One of these events is the genocide of Native Americans. Before the European settlers arrived to America is it estimated the American population consisted of over 10 million people. The 2010 consensus confirmed that there were only about 5.2 million left of that population today. The rapid colonization along with the rush to find gold and other natural resources by white settlers resulted in blatant racism and oppression towards the Native Americans. Along with the social hardships the Native Americans were also subject to mass illness and the forceful loss of their land. Although civil rights have bettered since the early 20th century for the Native American population, they still face hardships due to the history of attacks from their fellow citizens and even their own government.

Hillary Clinton and the ICC

19th International AIDS Conference Convenes In Washington

Hillary Clinton, after years of speculation, officially launched her campaign for President of the United States earlier this week. While this announcement hardly comes as a surprise to many, transitional justice scholars have wondered what a Clinton Presidency would mean for the relationship between the ICC and the US.

The relationship between the United States and ICC has improved over the course of the Obama administration, who supported the referral of Libya and Syria to the ICC. The US State department also added individuals indicted by the court to the Rewards for Justice Program, while playing a role in the transfer of Bosco Ntaganda to the ICC. On the more negative side, the US has still supported full immunity for soldiers to the ICC and the prohibition of the ICC from investigation of non-member states.

It’s hard to believe that a Clinton administration would have a much different relationship with the ICC, given her mixed opinions on the court. Originally, she supported full immunity for US citizens during the Rome Statue negotiations. As a New York Senator, she voted for the American Service-Members’ Protection Act, which authorized the President to use all force necessary to repatriate American citizens brought before the ICC.

In the late 2000s; however, her attitudes seemed to shift. As Secretary of State, she stated that:

This is a great regret that we are not a signatory. I think we could have worked out some of the challenges that are raised concerning our membership. But that has not yet come to pass.

This likely came in to shifting attitudes in the US, where it was now “uncool” to speak against the ICC, not from a change of heart from Clinton. This makes it hard for me to believe that the US would become a signing member or improve its’ relationship with the ICC with Hillary Clinton as President.

The International Criminal Court: A Threat Against State Sovereignty

The International Criminal Court holds three different types of jurisdiction including national, territorial and United Nations Security Council referral. In a recent article titled A Crime Against Sovereignty it discusses the territorial jurisdiction held by the ICC in relation to the preliminary investigations being held in Palestine and Afghanistan. Both Afghanistan and Palestine have ratified the Rome statute therefore granting the ICC jurisdiction to crimes committed within their territories or by people from their territories. The Israeli officials have taken an adversarial stance to the ICC’s preliminary investigation being held in Palestine possibly due to the fear that they may be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Furthermore the ICC is also hosting preliminary investigations in Afghanistan which could result in American officials being held responsible for war crimes committed during both the Bush and Obama administrations. The United States has made it clear that the ICC has no authority to prosecute American or Israeli citizens since they have not ratified the Rome Statute. In addition to voicing their opposition to the ICC’s jurisdiction, the United States has also enacted the American Service Members’ Protection Act of 2002  which authorizes the president to use all means necessary to free US and allied military personnel and government officials detained by the ICC. In addition to that, this act also grants severe restrictions on US cooperation with the court. As discussed in the Bosco reading, the Bush administration was very opposed to joining a supranational court stating that “…it’s the right move, not to join a foreign court that could- where our people could be prosecuted.” However Bosco also discusses how US relations with the ICC have improved under the Obama administration. With that said however the United States still remains a non-signatory of the statute and the ICC still faces a large political obstacle if it decides to go after US past and current officials. I remain curious as to how far the ICC’s power will extend. As we have discussed in class, one of the main critiques of the court is that it is very reliable on states’ cooperation and without it the ICC has a very difficult time in achieving its justice goals. I remain hopeful that the United States will cooperate as much as it can with the court and look forward to the ICC’s next move regarding the situation in both Palestine and Afghanistan.

Crimes Against Children in Syria

A recent UN report has presented evidence of recruitment of child soldiers, and sexual violence and killing of children in the current crisis in Syria. The report details atrocities committed between March 1, 2011 to November 15, 2013, claiming that over 10,000 children have been killed in less than three years.

Witnesses have reported that abuses against children detained by government authorities included “beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons; electric shocks, including to the genitals; the ripping out of fingernails and toenails; sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape; mock executions; cigarette burns; sleep deprivation; solitary confinement; and exposure to the torture of relatives”. While boys aged 12 to 17 years have been trained, armed and used as combatants for rebel forces.

While the UN has in past accused both the government and rebel alliance of crimes committed against children, this is the first report that has been presented directly to the UNSC on the issue. Given the outstanding evidence provided in the report, is it possible that the UNSC, which has thus far been incapable of providing a response to the conflict due to the polarizing interests of the p5, will be able to pass a directive that would respond directly to the atrocities committed against children? One of the main excuses Russia and China have used to rule against resolutions developed by the UNSC have placed too much responsibility on the Syrian government for atrocities committed, rather than acknowledging crimes perpetrated by rebel groups. The report, however, suggests that both sides of the conflict are to blame for these atrocities: the government in perpetrating sexual violence and torture of children, and rebel groups for coercing children into joining their militias. Understanding that both sides are being held accountable, will this entice Russia and China to vote in favor of a resolution that specifically addresses atrocities committed against children?

Furthermore, how might this report affect the United States’ stance on providing assistance to the Syrian Opposition? A State Department spokesman of the United States condemned the use of child soldiers, stating “We thoroughly vet recipients of our assistance in Syria. The leadership of the moderate armed opposition has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to upholding international human rights standards.” However, the report cites the Western-backed Free Syrian Army is guilty of recruitment of child soldiers.

While it is unlikely that the ICC will become involved in this situation due to the polarization of the UNSC, how can this report contribute to taking punitive measures against “big fish” perpetrators of crimes against children on both sides of this conflict?

American vs. European Attitude Towards Prisoners and the Death Penalty

The NYT reports that the United States will seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the man accused of the Boston Marathon bombing. The incident was the deadliest attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, and it is notable that one of the last people to be executed by the United States was Tim McVeigh, the terrorist behind the Oklahoma City bombing, back in 2001.

The ICC does not permit the death penalty, and that prohibition has apparently has been a sore point for some survivors and victims.

All of Europe except Belarus, and many U.S. States have abolished the death penalty (for most countries, this occurred relatively recently). The conservativeness of many Americans on this issue also extends to other issues regarding prisoners. I am ashamed of the barbaric prison conditions in America, but I would not support having prisons like they do in Norway, with flat-screen TVs and parklike grounds. Some of the rooms in Norwegian prisons actually look nicer then University of Chicago singles.

This brings up the issue of the “Hague Hilton” and the question of how best to prevent impunity and encourage accountability. If the European attitude continues to hold sway, then the world’s worst criminals may all end up in relatively nice prisons (still prisons, of course)–which is, to me, a disturbing thought. Whether or not you believe in the death penalty, it’s true enough that many of these criminals deserve such a fate. So I am not a believer in showing much kindness to convicted criminals. And while I hate the death penalty on principle, I will admit to being quite conflicted in big cases like that of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the Nazis who were hanged after Nuremberg. There is definitely a certain comfort in knowing that people who commit terrible atrocities, like Tsarnaev or the Nazis, could pay for it with their lives. So despite my own opposition to the death penalty, I can totally understand why people might question whether lifelong imprisonment is truly a just outcome for the very worst kinds of human beings. And I think I can understand that particular criticism of the ICC.

Chemical weapons in Syria

There has been rising concern that Assad will use chemical weapons (or that they would lose control of them to other groups). The concern has been enough that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have both spoken up about. Secretary Clinton called it the “red line”. If crossed, she said that “those responsible would be held to account”.

I can’t help but be reminded of the Halabja massacre. In the Halabja massacre, several thousands of Kurdish people (mostly civilians) were killed by chemical weapons (by Iraqi government forces). Officially, this has been named an act of genocide against the Kurdish Iraqis. Even without targeting a specific group, it has still been defined as a crime against humanity by the Parliament of Canada.

Syria has said that they have chemical weapons, but said that they were there in case of invading forces. However, there is obviously still the very concerning possibility that they could be used on the Syrian people.

Concerning the situation in Syria, reports are saying that the USS Eisenhower is on the Syrian coast and ready for intervention. This intervention could happen “within days”.

This action by the United States actually follows a decision by NATO to arrange for the Patriot Air and Missile Defense Systems in Turkey on the Syrian border. This is because of concern for the Turkey, as well as the northern parts of the Syrian border (these are controlled by the rebels).

Chemical weapons in Syria

USS Eisenhower by Syria

Halabja massacre

An American Truth Commission

In class today, Professor Tiemessen said that there is a truth commission in the United States. This truth commission is the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Source). The GTRC investigated and described what had happened on November 9, 1979, when five members of a protest by the Communist Workers Party were shot and killed by Ku Klux Klan members and the American Nazi Party. The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission shows that truth commissions can take on cases both large and very small. It also emphasizes the importance of all the basic necessities of a truth commission that makes it successful, from initial research and truth finding to the final report. The final report of the GTRC can be found on their website:

The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a testament to the need for truth. Even in a city of 250,000 people, the family of the victims and the city itself sought to find out what truly had happened on November 9, 1979. The Commission was able to firmly establish the roles that the police, KKK, the American Nazi Party, and the protesters of the Communist Workers Party played. There was also opposition to the GTRC: the mayor of Greensboro at the time of the massacre rejected the commission, and the city council was divided on the issue, only passing the commission when 6 voted in favor and 3 did not. It was also brought up that of the 6 that voted in favor, 3 were African Americans. Thus, it is fascinating to see how a truth commission that dealt with five deaths that happened on one day could face so many of the same issues that national-scale truth commissions also faced.

Looking Ahead

I recently read an article criticizing Obama’s stance with regards to the ICC. Some quotes are as follows:

* “But the United States would not accept the ICC under George W. Bush — and indeed, one of Romney’s own top advisers has said that Obama’s embrace of it reveals his weakness and passivity on national security, and his unwillingness to exercise international leadership.”
* “Bolton wrote that the ICC is “one of the world’s most illegitimate multilateral institutions,” adding that invoking it was an ‘abdication of responsibility’ on Obama’s part.”
* “Bolton added: Mr. Obama’s ready embrace of the International Criminal Court exemplifies his infatuation with handling threats to international peace and security as though they were simply local street crimes. It also reflects his overall approach to international affairs: a passive, legalistic America, deferring to international bodies, content to be one of 15 Security Council members rather than leading from the front. So embracing the ICC is tantamount to ‘leading from behind,’ right?”

The above thoughts have been widely circulated, especially post-election debates with Romney’s mention of the “World Court” and indicting Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention, which is addressed by the ICC. The criticisms outlined above are very in line with Andrea Birdsall’s assertions on why the United States is unwilling to be on board, written in The Monster That We Need to Slay.

While one stance is that US sovereignty “should be” preserved on matters of justice, since the US as a world power “shouldn’t” be undermined in judicial jurisdiction, another is that as a world power we do have an ethical obligation to participate, and maybe even lead, the global justice/peace effort. Though this decision may not be in the United States’ political self-interest, it does allow the US to join a global conversation of foreign policy, even using the pretext of “cooperation” to assume an influential role within the court. US support, in participation or providing resources, may even increase ICC productivity.

Though in the aftermath of our most recent Presidential Election, do we see Obama using his second term in office to carry out his initial hopes to end hostility with the ICC? Do we see him rising above Bolton-like critiques, in order to move the US forward, towards supporting ICC efforts, and joining the movement? And if not, what do we see Obama accomplishing on the road to global justice and peace?

U.S. soldier’s testimony on Afghan rampage at odds with prosecution

A recent trial being conducted by the army is centered on a US soldier that went on a shooting rampage this past March and killed 16 villagers in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. The US prosecutor is seeking the death penalty, but the trial has had recent trip ups with some of the prosecution’s witnesses have led to delays with the legal proceedings. While this is an example of a government holding its own military accountable, it is still a fact that this is one of the worst civilian slaughters blamed on an individual soldier since Vietnam.

While reading this article, I was struck how it is situations like this that the United States has argued they want to retain control over by not joining the ICC. In the effort to encourage discussion, I find myself wondering about the type of backlash that would be incurred if the United States were to find insufficient evidence and dismiss a case like this. If the US were a signatory nation, how likely would it be that there would be enough pressure from the international community to push for an abstaining vote from the US or repeated opposition?

To me, it seems like even in cases like this that the combination of the veto power of the US in the security council and the fact that the American legal system is so stable means that they would rarely, if ever, find themselves in a situation like that. That said, it is conceivable that this would turn many nations against the United States if a case like that were dismissed or if the defendant were found to be not guilty.

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?

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.

UN to investigate plight of US Native Americans for first time

Although this does not connect (yet) to the ICC or other direct means of international justice, I found it very interesting because it brings up the question of international interference in domestic matters of our own country. For the first time the UN will conduct an investigation into the plight of Native Americans in the United States.

James Antaya, UN special rapporteur on indigenous people is leading the investigation. Antaya is originally from New Mexico and well versed in Native American issues. In 2010, the United States signed the UN declaration on rights of indigenous peoples. This declaration establishes minimum basic rights for indigenous people globally. Antaya states that the goal of this human rights inquiry is to assess “how the standards of the declaration are reflected in US law and policy, and [identify] needed reforms and good practices.”

I think that it is generally observed that life for Native Americans living on US reservations is at best rough. Personally I believe this investigation is warranted and I am interested in reading the report when it is concluded. The potential recommendations are obviously still unknown but how do you guys think the US will react to the report when it is issued? I’m wondering what your reactions are to having the tables turned on us and being the target of an investigation by the United Nations.