Thursday, June 26, 2014

Iran and the International Criminal Court

The question of Iran’s interest in joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) is being presented again by its new policy of greater openness to the rest of the world and its current dealings with the west. AMICC constituents may as a result encounter this development in their advocacy. Iran has publically voiced its support for the Court numerous times and could benefit from ratifying the Rome Statute. Iran vigorously participated in the negotiations of the Rome Statute and is a signatory. In the 2010 ICC Review Conference in Kampala, Iran sent a delegation to participate and once again expressed its support for the Court.

For the first time in decades, political channels between Iran and the United States are open. While the two countries work towards finding a solution to Iran’s nuclear program, the international community now watches to see if the unlikely duo will cooperate to combat the Islamic militant group in Iraq.  Despite its faults, Iran is a relatively stable country in a region marked by chaos.  In recent history, Iran fell victim to war crimes committed by Saddam Hussein, it has long felt that he was not held accountable for his crimes. Today, Iran faces another threat by an extremist Sunni militant group.  Ratifying the Rome Statute would aid in preventing impunity for crimes that this group is committing.

Participation in the Court would also serve another new Iranian goal: acceptance internationally as a responsible country. If Iran truly desires to productively participate in international relations, it must demonstrate to the world that it is trustworthy. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, described President Rouhani’s policy as one that “values accountability, transparency, and honesty in dealing with the populace and implies a willingness to reform and improve existing policies.” Becoming a member of the Court would aid in accomplishing such a goal by making its peaceful intentions clear. However, if Iran were to join the Court, the country would thereby accept the Court’s jurisdiction which would hold it accountable for the crimes it commits. 

In 2017, the Court is likely to acquire jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. Iran has repeatedly voiced its support for the inclusion of the crime of aggression in the Court’s Rome Statute. Officials from both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Judicial Power have described crimes of aggression as “the most important international crimes.” During the Iran-Iraq war, which Iran considered a war of aggression, Iraqi forces killed at least 300,000 Iranians and injured more than 500,000. Despite multiple pleas to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) by the Iranians, the UNSC never found that Iraq had started a war of aggression. Iran’s support for the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression is the result of its resentment of Saddam Hussein’s impunity. Had such a court been available to Iran, it would not have had to rely on the UNSC for justice.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

AMICC participated in the Global Summit "End Sexual Violence in Conflict" in London, June 10-13. The Summit buzzed with writing and speaking about the International Criminal Court (ICC), including events featuring Court officials such as prosecutor Bensouda.
We attended because the strong emotional and moral response from the political left and right alike to sexual violence as a tactic in war is very valuable to our advocacy. We can use this emotional response to draw the indifferent and the doubtful to the Court. Sexual violence in conflict is a signature crime in the ICC’s jurisprudence which has new and advanced standards and definitions for it. For example, and as frequently mentioned at the Summit, the Court’s Rome Statute, in a breakthrough for international law, specifically recognizes rape as a separate crime, rather than as part of some other general crime (e.g., assault)  - the traditional definition.

The British government organized the Summit through its Foreign Secretary William Hague who co-hosted with Angelina Jolie. Its purpose was to attract government ministers and other high-ranking officials and to get their commitment to act on sexual violence in conflict. It aimed to produce, from governmental and NGO meetings (AMICC was in several of these), numerous practical recommendations for actions.  It succeeded on all counts. At least for now, the world is paying more attention to the crime. Many countries have committed in the Summit’s closing documents to acting against sexual violence. But conference commitments tend to fade away unless there is persistent and effective follow-up. The Summit organizers seemed to hope that NGOs would take up this task.

The US had a substantial presence at the Summit. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered the closing keynote speech with fervor suggesting a strong personal commitment against the crime. Led by Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice Stephen Rapp, the American official group had representatives from USAID and several bureaus in the State Department. Six American academics spoke at various panels and working sessions. This presence and Kerry’s speech made clear a US government open intention to join ICC action against the crime. This intention can give us further access to the government for discussion and collaboration about the ICC.
Written by John Washburn, AMICC Convener

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Politics in the Security Council: About Syria, Not the International Criminal Court

The New York Times has it close, but not quite right, about the US and the International Criminal Court in its June 3 piece, “Politics Seen Undercutting Credibility of a Court” (read here).  This was prompted, like a lot of similar comments, by the failure in the UN Security Council of a resolution to refer atrocities in Syria to the Court.  

Despite the impression given by the article, France, not the United States, led this effort. All Council members knew well that China and Russia would veto. Most joined France in wanting to use the resolution to isolate and condemn them for their position on Syrian atrocities. With patience, adroit drafting, adept diplomacy and support from fellow Council permanent members the USA and Britain, France won votes for its resolution from 13 members of the total Security Council members. Supporting speeches, including the American one, condemned China and Russia harshly and directly. No one hearing these remarkably emotional and hard-hitting statements could possibly have agreed with the Times that they politicized the notion of international criminal justice or undermined its credibility. The speeches marked the success of a collective attack on Syria’s supporters, not a single-handed United States effort “to skewer its foes.”

In its relations with the ICC, the United States is shackled by legislation. These laws ban the country from giving money either directly or through the United Nations to the Court, allow US support to it only in cases that are “in the American national interest” and block the Court’s jurisdiction over US service members. However, the United States has never declared an ICC case to be not in the national interest. 

Nonetheless, the United States did give a political coloration to the draft resolution on Syria by insisting on language about the American national interest, denying UN funds to the Court and keeping the Golan Heights out of the ICC’s jurisdiction. Argentina and Chad rightly called out the US on these restrictions. If the United States continues to do this, some ICC supporters believe that, rather than compromise its efficiency and independence, the Court should refuse to accept Security Council referrals that contain these limitations.

The United States is one among many members and friendly nations that fail to enforce ICC arrest warrants and other orders. This is a general problem for the Court with which a caucus in the Court’s governing body is grappling now. The United States should join in carrying out any sensible solution the caucus achieves.

The infamous bilateral immunity agreements strong-armed by the Bush administration indeed remain technically in effect, but are feared by other countries no longer, now that Congress has removed the threat of stopping military aid to them. However, the agreements should go for good, lest some future administration try to restore the threat. Abandoning them might start if countries offended by the agreements began to withdraw from them.

As the Times explains, the US has a good and ever-growing relationship in support of the ICC. This now needs a firm foundation of policy, consistently applied, to support this good practice.

Written by John Washburn, AMICC Convener