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ICC Gets Some Love from the Obama Administration. But Can It Endure Past ‘Aggression?’

The  International Criminal Court’s governing body, the Assembly of State Parties, is meeting in New York this week.   The United States has not ratified the treaty, so it is not technically a “state party,” but last year the Obama administration decided that the United States, for the first time, would participate as an observer to the meeting.  At the time, U.S. READ MORE

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U.S. to join ICC as an observer

Big news for the cause of international justice, human rights, and deterring war crimes:  the United States has agreed to participate, as an observer, in a meeting of state parties to the International Criminal Court.  The news emerged from a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya with the U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues, Stephen Rapp. Via Reuters:

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Is 61% approval “deep-seated ambivalence?”

Former Bush Administration official John Bellinger has an interesting WaPo op-ed on the prospects of the United States joining the International Criminal Court. In the main, he’s probably right: the United States is not likely to join the Court in the immediate future. But the argument with which he chooses to conclude his piece is deeply misleading:

Secretary Clinton is right that U.S. non-participation in the ICC is regrettable, especially given the long-standing U.S. commitment to international justice. Yet non-participation also reflects an unfortunate but deep-seated American ambivalence toward international institutions that the Obama administration, despite its support for international law, is unlikely to be able to change.

61% of Americans — well over a majority — have voiced support for that grand-daddy of all international institutions, the United Nations. The suggestion that there is a “deep-seated American ambivalence toward international institutions” is a self-serving straw man. To the extent that popular discomfort with the ICC exists, it is largely a result of myth-making, fear-mongering, and playing politics from above, not an inherent skepticism of the institution.

It’s telling that, while Bellinger claims that President Bush’s “objections” to the Court still exist, he never addresses the validity of these objections. Contrary to his self-confident pronouncement otherwise, the Court could not “be used to prosecute U.S. soldiers during a time of war.” This is political posturing, and a sorry excuse not to join a Court responsible for prosecuting only genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.  If Bellinger is right that ICC ratification is not forthcoming, it will be because a select group of U.S. Senators will consistently maneuver to oppose it, not because of an overwhelming groundswell of popular “ambivalence.”

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ICC warrant working?

Sudanese President Bashir, who’d previously shown few qualms in provocatively traipsing across Africa after his indictment by the ICC, visiting allies that he knew were non-signatories to the Court, has recently backed off a planned trip to neighboring Uganda.  Why?  Well, Kampala hasn’t exactly been clear on the matter, but it seems that even the faintest threat of being arrested (Uganda has ratified the ICC’s Rome Statute) was enough to dissuade Bashir from the chance of looking foolish — and of ending up in the dock in The Hague.

This isn’t surefire proof that the ICC warrant is “working,” of course.  Bashir remains pretty safely ensconced in power — at least as long as he remains in Sudan.  But this is exactly the point of the of the warrant, to constrain Bashir in his movement.  Whether it will actually result in his eventual arrest — or, even better, a viable peace settlement in the country — is far from clear, but if Uganda is willing to arrest send mixed signals about arresting Bashir, well, then that’s a step at least.

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ICC in Kenya?

Former S-G Kofi Annan, who mediated the post-election crisis in Kenya in early 2008, has passed on a secret envelope to Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Inside this envelope are names of those responsible for the shocking violence that swept across Kenya, with frightening ethnic undertones, after the contentious election.

Moreno-Ocampo, of course, is no stranger to such lists of names. In the case of Sudan, he went to the very top of the list. Top Kenyan officials are likely not included in this envelope, but Reuters reports that the names of two ministers “probably” are included (which seems just about inevitable, given that Kenya’s Cabinet has something around four or five dozen members).

Will the ICC open up investigations in Kenya? Well, that depends. For one, the ICC only has jurisdiction over those most horrific of crimes: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. But if some instigators of the violence in Kenya did in fact pursue a strategy targeting particular ethnic groups, the ICC’s mandate may indeed apply.

Second, the ICC will only be able to operate in Kenya if the Kenyan justice system falls short of trying these alleged crimes. And this seems to be the primary purpose of the handover of the envelope — spurring Kenyan authorities to create an adequate tribunal system. While I admire Moreno-Ocampo’s tenacity in this regard, I don’t think his critics will be greatly comforted by the bravado of this statement:

The ICC’s Moreno-Ocampo told Reuters this week it may take Kenya about a year to establish a tribunal if it agrees to do so in principle. “If Kenya cannot do it, I will do it. There will be no impunity,” he said.

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Listen to ICC radio in (the) C.A.R.

One of the controversies the ICC has had to deal with is the notion that it is “biased” against Africa. Even though most of the ICC’s work to date has been in African countries, this is a pretty hollow charge; the reason that the ICC is operating in three of these four states is because they asked it to do so.

Much of the resistance to the ICC in Africa, particularly since the indictment of Sudanese President Bashir, has come from other heads of state. Hence the AU resolution last week rebuking the court, which was concluded in a closed-door session and evidently did not garner the support of all participants.

Discomfort with the ICC among Africans on a populist level, though, does undeniably exist, even if much of it seems based on misinformation (often peddled by state governments). To counter these negative impressions, the ICC is taking to the airwaves.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) today launches a series of radio programmes in the Central African Republic (CAR) as part of an outreach campaign aimed at informing the country’s population about the court’s mandate and activities.

The 13-episode series, which will be broadcast in the Sango language, is called “Understanding the International Criminal Court” and uses a question-and-answer format. At least 14 separate radio stations are expected to air the programmes.

Crank that dial.

(image from flickr user fatcontroller under a Creative Commons license)

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