Why the International Community Should Care About African Nations Leaving the ICC
Legitimacy is often dictated by the amount of respect an institution acquires from others. This respect then translates into how states interact and cooperate on the behalf of the institution to further the goals that nations share. The problem is, once this mutual respect for an international institution is lost, countries stop cooperating and the organization ultimately has little ability to force states to adhere to international regulations. The ICC is an internationally recognized institution who sets forth a court system that prosecutes and investigates crimes against humanities. Some nations have recently argued that they no longer allow the ICC to operate within the legal boundaries they originally agreed to because the courts are only an extension of Western interference in world matters. South African nations like Burundi have also claimed that they will not recognize the ICC because they un-proportionally investigate crimes in Africa therefore, they are racist. The international community should be concerned over these course of events as it directly effects how international law will hold in the future; this couldn’t mark the end to the modern international court system and a return to inconsistent domestic prosecution of crimes against humanities. This mass exodus threatens the legitimacy of the court system as African nations set a precedent that countries may leave and ignore the demands of the ICC without any retribution.
The ICC is an international criminal court system created to “prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for the worst crimes,” like genocide and other inhumane acts (News BCC, 1). Throughout the 20th century, nations struggled to deal with these crimes consistently which prompted the creation of the ICC. This court system can be seen as an offshoot to the UN, as they are supported and regulated by the UN, they are supposed to represent the idea that there are international doctrines countries must adhere to and in cases where they are not being followed, they will be prosecuted. However the ICC does not have any means of enforcing their findings; they have no military at their disposal to make sure nation’s operate within the boundary of international law. This means that it is left up to the digression of individual nations to follow these laws since there will be no direct retribution for not following them.
Laws are not something to be taken lightly, they are respected and firmly founded within societies. Although it is debated how much a role international law should take on, the findings of the ICC need to be respected. Law, both domestic and international, is a very tricky principle since it is often left open for different interoperation. The concept of justice compliments laws, but is only as useful to the extent to which we believe in it. Just as the ICC is searching for validation from other countries, the supreme court in the American judicial system was once searching for the same thing. Up until the early 1900’s the supreme court had been something that complimented the newly made American system, but did not have real authority. Around 1820, the supreme court set out a ruling that the indigenous peoples should retain sovereignty over their land in the Georgia and other surrounding states. In response to this, President Jackson famously responded “the supreme court has made a decision, not let them enforce it” (Court History, 1) then proceeded to forcibly relocate Cherokee across the Mississippi, blatantly ignoring the supreme court’s findings. “Nothing in the Indian Removal Act of 1830 authorized his denial of Indian treaty rights in the removal process” (Cave, 1353) however since the operations of the supreme court were not set in stone at that point in time, the president was able to get away from ignoring their claims. Although the ICC cannot be compared to the American judicial system, as they are very different, this example of a firmly established governing body ignoring a newly established court system is something to take note of. Since the supreme court, before this ruling, had little experience dealing with cases and then making sure their rulings were followed, this was new territory and the president easily ignored their findings. In the modern international community, the ICC does not have a firm understanding of how they are supposed to uphold their findings, therefore countries are exploiting this discrepancy. This will continue to go on until there is a sense of retribution for nations that do this, just as there is no negative effect for countries who are backing out of support from the ICC. This problem will only spiral out of control until dealt with and until then, it will only make the ICC easier to ignore.
Another factor that contributes to the idea of legitimacy and respect an institution attains from others is who actually supports it. Without support from the right nations or organizations, an international institution that needs respect in order to survive will have a lot of trouble gaining support by others if they fail to coerce everyone to respect them. After WW1, nations mutually understood a need for an international governing body to intercede when there is strife between countries. As a result, the League of nations was created to just this however they failed to ally themselves with its biggest supporter, the United States, and struggled as a result which contributed to their demise in many ways. President Woodrow Wilson traveled around the country, campaigning on this 14 points and the idea for self determination of nations and then a body to regulate how states interacted so a situation like WW1 would never happen again. The league’s’ authority “was not seriously challenged until a series of events exposed it as ineffectual” (League of Nations Insituted, 2). This situation can easily be compared to the ICC and what prompted its emergence. However now as essential nations are pulling their support, South African countries like Burundi who are extremely valuable to how the ICC functions because that is where they primarily investigate, the ICC is struggling to function. It can be understood that without essential nations support, a governing body will fail to yield enough legitimacy and will ultimately fail. This can be compared to how African nations are primarily being investigated and without their cooperation the ICC cannot wield enough power to continue to investigate without their support.
Although the examples I have analyzed in this essay are not extremely recent, the comparison between international disintegration from a hundred years ago still holds traction with today’s current situation. It can be safely assumed that the members of the international community do want to apart of the ICC and other institutions, as there are advantageous reasons to be apart of an international organization, however they cannot rally support for them because of their specific grievances. African Nations do have legitimate concerns when claiming the ICC is biased, as they have “opened inquiries into 10 countries for possible trial, nine of which are in Africa” (Uganda President, 1) within the past few years.
There are so few avenues to pursue justice effectively that every court system, even if not respected is important to the future. If countries was a consistent way to maintain the peace throughout the world, then no world powers should tolerate African Nations withdrawal from the ICC. In a society that is currently threatened in new and complex ways, such as the refugee crisis, the splintering of the EU, terrorism, climate change, people should not allow for further destabilization of international law. This would be a stain on our international conscience as it would be a step backward from the collective action that has been fragilely maintained by the ICC.
Cave, Alfred A. “Abuse Of Power: Andrew Jackson And The Indian Removal Act Of 1830.” Historian 65.6 (2003): 1330–1353. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.
“Court History.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.
“Ugandan President Museveni Praises African Nations for Withdrawing from ‘useless’ ICC.” International Business Times UK. N.p., 26 Oct. 2016. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.
“League of Nations Instituted.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.
News, BBC. “What Does the International Criminal Court Do?” BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.