A new article in the Christian Science Monitor points out the recent successes of international courts in prosecuting criminals or seeking trials for leaders who committed atrocities in their respective countries but have not paid for their actions. The idea of international courts is a great effort toward giving the world a moral compass in the treatment of the most vulnerable but there is a big problem with these courts: the biggest powers in the world refuse to play along because they risk embarrassment if their relations with brutal regimes are exposed.
If you’re a protectorate or client state of a Security Council member, chances are that the ICC prosecutor isn’t going to be jumping out of his or her chair to open a full-blown criminal investigation. Why Libya and not Bashar al-Assad and Syria’s bloody maelstrom? Ask Moscow. Why Cote d’Ivoire but not Mahinda Rajapaksa and the brutal ending to Sri Lanka’s civil war? Ask Beijing. Why Kenya but not the violent suppression of protests in Yemen or Bahrain by those governments? Ask Washington.
Many people in the United States are against the idea of submitting to the international courts because of the fear smaller countries will use their cohesiveness to oppress America. But the likelihood this happens is, of course, nearly nonexistent. If you need an example, just look at the United Nations and the ineffectiveness of other countries to end the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba.
There is, however, another pertinent factor that should be addressed. If there is agreement someone who commits atrocities in their country or against another one should be prosecuted and can’t be put on trial because of their power within their own homeland, why are U.S. citizens so afraid of international courts? The fact is it helps to have outside perspective at times and living in the bubble of your own country’s media is a difficult way to judge whether your government is acting wrongly.
This isn’t to say every time a politician expresses an opinion on an international situation, they should be put on trial for a perceived insult. But it is to assume there might be situations where an international trial could be justified, even if we are just speaking of future endeavors. And the first step toward true international justice would be for all three permanent members of the Security Council and current ICC holdouts to sign on to the treaty and let the courts gain more legitimacy in the eyes of the international community.