The Credibility of the ICC

The ICC, or International Criminal Court, is a criminal court based on attempting to solve crimes perpetrated by the international community’s most violent criminals. The ICC is concerned with punishing the criminals who inflict the greatest harms on the global scale. The ICC is seated in the Netherlands and is not directly associated with the UN (The International Criminal Court,). The major crimes that the ICC prosecutes are genocide, war crime and crimes against humanity. The ICC tries to put a halt to impunity for those who commit atrocious war crimes. Because of this many humanitarians have praised it. However, many African governments believe that the court has a severe bias against Africa. I would argue however, that the ICC has the framework to succeed however it lacks widespread accountability.


            The ICC’s role is to equally prosecute war criminals from all of its member countries. Of the 122 countries that have ratified the Rome statute, only 34 are African Nations. However, the court has disproportionately charged Africa.  African leaders argue that this is not a coincidence, but an example of a western court picking on Africa. In March of 2012, the ICC reached a landmark verdict. Thomas Lubanga was convicted of war crimes in the Congo. He was the first person officially convicted by the court, and he was African. Before his however, the ICC had sat on 25 different cases. Each and every one of these cases has been an African one (BBC, 2012). In fact, The African Union Chairman, Jean Ping, directly attacked the ICC saying that it existed solely to attack Africa and that Africa was unfairly targeted. (BBC, 2012).

            The Argument against the ICC goes farther however, than just studying who is being arrested, in fact the deepest level of analysis comes from observing who can report violations.  The United Nations Security Council is able to refer specific cases to the ICC. Although on the surface this seems logical and benign, it’s implications further the idea that the ICC is a tool for developed nations to prosecute Africans. The UNSC’s three most powerful seats, USA, Russia and China, have all abstained from the ICC’s jurisdiction (Maru, 2014). This creates a situation where the balance of power is not bi-lateral. The countries who are actively accusing other nations aren’t held accountable by the court. This is a prime example of developed countries using the court, which has no authority over them, to prosecute others. This is not justice.

            Moreover, Some America, European and Middle Eastern officials aren’t covered by the ICC’s power (Maru, 2014) This only solidifies the notion that these leaders are using the ICC as a tool to bludgeon weaker nations. Because the UNSC steers the ICC towards Africa, which is not represented on this council’s permanent member group, non-African nations haven’t been charged. Doctor Taddele Maru states that, “many Africans regard this as a mockery of international justice.”

Humanitarian Success

            The ICC’s first conviction was a monumental step forward for the court and for international justice as a whole. Not only did it bring to justice Thomas Lubanga a war criminal who violently recruited thousands of child soldiers but it also served as a warning sign. When the court brought down the warlord, it essentially cemented itself as a legitimate force in dealing with criminals.  Moreover, it brought to light a lot of the issues that westerners don’t often see. The trials illuminated a hidden part of our world’s reality. Because of this, it was a humanitarian success on multiple levels.

            Firstly, when the ICC successfully brought to justice Lubanga, it also served as a warning to all other warlords. The ICC is legit. Crimes that had previously gone unpunished, or unaccounted for due to the international community’s inaction or internal government’s failures to go through with justice were now seriously prosecuted. As GGéraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch says, “Military commanders in Congo and elsewhere should take notice of the ICC’s powerful message: using children as a weapon of war is a serious crime that can lead them to the dock.” Because of the ICC, there is now a legitimate legal incentive against committing atrocious acts of war. Other warlords now know that the international community is going to take a stand. When criminals see others being prosecuted they realize that they are no longer above the law and they are less inclined to act violently or to abuse human rights. This is a huge step forward in the fight against human rights abuses.

            Secondly, the ICC’s success illuminates a dark spot of our world issues.  For many westerners, the use of child soldiers is something beyond comprehension. It is difficult for most of us to even fathom the idea that this could possibly be a reality. However, when the court proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Lubanga had cultivated an army of juvenile forces it became clear to everyone that sever rights abuses were a reality in some African nations. With the confirmation that child soldiers were being used in the Congo came the confirmation that they were also being abused in multiple other African nations, including Uganda (HRW, 2012). As well as giving the public insight on the issues that face the world, the trials also gave the court knowledge of many other humanitarian issues throughout the African conflict, all of which were linked with the Lubanga case. Bosco Natanga, another Congolese militant, was brought to light as another important international criminal. The knowledge gives the international community knowledge on the remaining threats in Congo and how they should be handled.

            Finally, the most obvious success of the court’s first judgment was the direct justice that was had. Lubanga is clearly a war criminal who had disastrous impacts on the lives of many young African children. His war crimes were atrocious and he was finally sternly punished by the court. Although a 14 year sentence isn’t as long as many would have liked it is a step in the right direction. Seing Lubanga pay the price for his grotesque violations is a clear victory for both the ICC and the international community as a whole.

            Although this is solely 1 case, it provides a compelling example of how the ICC can have important positive effects when it is allowed to run smoothly and prosecute war criminals. The ICC effectively provides justice where local governments cannot do their jobs and puts an end to impunity for war criminals.

Better in Theory than in Practice

            The ICC’s intentions are noble, however in practice they often fall short. Because they lack a militarized police force and a strong enough global authority, the ICC is unable to actually enforce the regulations that they try to impose.

            To begin, under the status Quo, the ICC cannot formally charge any citizen of the USA with a war crime. This is because the USA hasn’t signed the Rome treaty, which essentially governs the court (Schwammenthal, 2009). The USA is therefore not actually accountable to the international community. The same can be said about China and Russia. These three nations are amongst the international community’s most important actors, and they have evaded the international communities only existing penal system. If the purpose of the ICC is as a last resort court to punish the criminals that existing governments cannot punish, then who can punish the criminals from those countries? It isn’t as easy as saying that the US doesn’t produce war criminals however.  In fact, the USA has been suspected of a few war crimes over past few years, however they have remained unscathed by the ICC. Fore example, in 2007 multiple Iraqi prisoners attempted to press charges against the US for the use of torture and inhumane treatments at a military prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay detainment facility. When the German government dropped the charges, there was no one left to turn to because the ICC could not fulfill it’s role as the last result judicial system due to the US’ abstinence from the Rome treaty (Donahue, 2007). If a body serving as the international community’s judicial body cannot equally ensure justice throughout the world it cannot ensure justice for anyone. Justice involves everyone being held to the same standard, under the status quo the ICC doesn’t hold everyone to the same standard and therefore cannot be considered just. Even if the ICC had wanted to prosecute the Bush administration however, they wouldn’t have had the practical ability to do so which further pushes the idea that they aren’t a credible organization.

            The ICC’s issues with sentencing don’t stop there however. It’s not as if once they list a suspect it’s smooth sailing for the court. In fact, once they list a suspect it becomes nearly impossible for that suspect to be caught and in some instance makes him less likely to abandon his position of authority. When the court issued a warrant for Omar al-Bashir in 2009, they wanted to bring down the Sudanese president on a host of war crimes. Bashir is a wanted criminal in the international community, however it remains extremely difficult for the court to bring him to justice. The man commands the Sudanese army and is obviously unwilling to co-operate with a body trying to bring him down. In reality, the ICC depends on domestic forces to arrest international criminals because it doesn’t actually have a police force. Because of this it is impossible for them to bring down Bashir. He will therefore likely never face justice (Jamshidi, 2013).

            Although the ICC is fuelled by noble intentions, it doesn’t actually hold enough authority to have much use on the global scale. It lacks the ability to freely prosecute criminals as well as the ability to actually bring to justice the criminals that it does charge. Because of their lack of authority the court’s warrants are too often worth only as much as the paper they are written on.


Nikolas De Stefano