Bush's snub of criminal court undermines world justice
by Amy Ross
International Criminal Court (ICC) is now a reality. But the
United States won�t be at the table. Office
space has been rented. Professionals from around the world will serve as
judges, attorneys and translators, tasked with prosecuting human rights
violations such as war crimes and genocide. But the U.S. chair will be
President Bush recently "unsigned" President Clinton�s
signature on the treaty creating the court, a move dubious in its
legality and shocking in its arrogance. Bush�s insistence that the
United States stands above the court really means that America will be
left outside this important international body.
The new court enjoys the support of nations worldwide,
including all of the European democracies and a majority of the
countries the United States considers its closest allies. The ICC won�t
take the place of these national courts; it has jurisdiction only if the
courts fail to act. It will be located in The Hague, a city with a long
tradition of hosting international treaties and institutions.
The Bush administration�s move typifies its disregard
for multilateral cooperation. The White House has made it clear that it
will use its muscle to stymie the ICC, which it believes might hold U.S.
citizens (soldiers and public servants) accountable to international
Last fall, the Bush administration endorsed
legislation�the American Service Members� Protection Act�calling for
sanctions against countries that support the initiative. This
legislation was characterized in Europe as "The Hague Invasion Act,"
because it authorized the United States to use force to bring about the
release from captivity of any U.S. service member detained or imprisoned
by the ICC in the Netherlands.
"At a time when allies in Europe and around the world
are rallying to stand with the United States against a common threat,
the State Department should not be embracing legislation that authorizes
an invasion of the Netherlands," the group Human Rights Watch stated in
a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell. "It hardly seems like a
good moment for the U.S. to be threatening sanctions against dozens of
countries simply because they want to bring to justice perpetrators of
crimes against humanity."
Opposition in the Senate managed to remove the extreme
language from a defense appropriation bill. It must be noted that
American aversion to the International Criminal Court predates the Bush
administration. For five weeks in 1998, under President Clinton�s watch,
the U.S. delegation to the United Nations conference wrestled with the
rest of the world over the ICC treaty. Washington strenuously objected
to elements in the treaty that gave the ICC its powers, and in the minds
of the vast majority of the other participants, made the court viable.
The United States insisted on conditions that would
essentially make it impossible to try an American. As one frustrated
delegate said at the time, "We are being forced to accept a court that
is either weakened by �American exceptionalism,� or weakened by the lack
of involvement of the U.S."
Despite accommodations and compromises, the United
States became increasingly isolated, watching as its allies coalesced
into the group of "like-minded nations." In the end, 120 countries voted
to adopt the treaty. Only seven voted against it. The United States and
Israel publicly announced their opposition; the five other countries in
the secret vote were reported to be China, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and the
Behind this movement to combat bestial crime with
rational justice is the recognition that warfare increasingly affects
civilians. In the past, soldiers were the victims of war. But throughout
the 20th century, civilians made up more than 90 percent of the
casualties of war.
On Sept. 11, we Americans felt this reality. Now we
share with others across the planet the knowledge that we can become
civilian casualties, the "collateral damage" of conflict. As the Bush
administration�s bellicose and increasingly unilateral response to 9-11
appears to be failing in its objectives�Osama bin Laden has eluded
capture, and threats against the United States at home and abroad
continue�it is time to reassess our strategy.
With the ratification of the ICC on April 11, the global
community will commit itself to responding to outrageous crimes with
rational legal mechanisms. The ICC cannot try past crimes; it looks
toward the future. In theory, the very existence of a professional
court�competent and empowered�could deter individuals from committing
crimes against humanity. In this best-case scenario, the ICC will see
in the event that genocide, forced expulsion of populations, widespread
rape, "disappearances," torture, and other crimes occur, the ICC can
respond. After thorough criminal investigations, indictments can be
issued, trials held and verdicts reached. It�s a process that will
surely be conflictive and arduous. It will take time, money and
international cooperation to resolve. Such is the messy operation of
democracy and civilization.
Bush�s lack of engagement with the ICC is dangerous.
While the rest of the world continues to develop laws, norms and
practices to combat crimes against humanity, the United States has
pulled itself out of the action. Perhaps by abandoning "American
exceptionalism" and working within the initiatives of international
justice, we might all find ourselves closer to peace and security.
(Amy Ross, an assistant professor of Geography at
the University of Georgia, researched truth commissions in South Africa
and Guatemala and the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. She is a
contributor to the Pacific News Service and can be reached at
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