The International Criminal Court, designed to prosecute the perpetrators of genocide, may soon be unleashed against the world’s leading defenders of human rights: the United States and Great Britain. Although the United States has immunity from prosecution at this time, cases already pending at the ICC and other EU courts show the danger American troops – and commanders – would face if they ever become subject to an international court’s jurisdiction. These cases also demonstrate how the Left is willing to abuse and trivialize forums meant to end genuine human misery in order to make a political point.
Ending the specter of genocide became a priority upon the founding of the United Nations, when the full extent of the Holocaust became known. As early as 1948, the UN General Assembly’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide recommended that war criminals be tried “by such international penal tribunals as may have jurisdiction.” Some members of the General Assembly (GA) expressed a wish to see the establishment of an international court holding the guilty accountable for their participation in atrocities against innocent civilians. Toward this end, the GA adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which spelled out the fundamental rights and freedoms owed to all people – freedoms inferior to those granted American citizens by the U.S. Constitution, incidentally.
The ultimate flowering of this process came to pass in the summer of 1998, when 160 countries sent representatives to Rome to participate in a UN conference “to finalize and adopt a convention on the establishment of an International Criminal Court (ICC)” — a Court mandated to try cases of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. A statute was drawn up, stipulating that the new Court could commence its operations after sixty nations had ratified it. This requirement was met in the early months of 2002; thus, on July 1, 2002, the ICC became a legal entity. It was not authorized to try cases retroactively but to consider only events occurring after its inception date.
Thus far, the ICC statute has been ratified by 90 countries and signed by 139. Unlike the International Court of Justice at The Hague, whose role is to settle the legal disputes submitted to it by member states, the ICC’s job is to prosecute individuals involved in the aforementioned offenses — particularly when their own nations’ courts are unable or unwilling to do so. The UN Security Council, national governments, concerned organizations, and even individuals can bring lawsuits before the ICC. The ICC’s prosecutors were elected this past April. The prominent Argentinean litigator Luis Moreno Ocampo was sworn in as chief prosecutor five weeks ago, and the Registrar was sworn in on July 3, 2003.
As the Court now begins its first session, you might suspect Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein would find an early place on the docket. Or maybe the ICC would try Kim Jong Il, the brutal North Korean dictator who has systematically starved two million of his subjects to death and tortured hundreds of thousands more in labor camps? Or it might train its guns on Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who is also starving his own people while forcibly seizing land from his country’s white farmers? Or perhaps some of the myriad henchmen who have carried out the aforementioned individuals’ monstrous policies? Maybe the perpetrators of the ongoing, unspeakable atrocities in Congo, Liberia, and Sudan; or the agents of oppression, terror, and human-rights abuses scattered all over the Arab world?
But none of these cases are soon to be heard. Instead, the Greek Bar Association has announced that it will file charges of “crimes against humanity and war crimes” with the ICC against British Prime Minister Tony Blair, because of his participation in the Iraq war. This is not at all surprising; from the very start, the main proponents of the ICC’s formation were “human rights” organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, both of which traditionally oppose American foreign policy — and were ecstatic to find a vehicle with international “respectability” through which they could condemn any American military and political venture they dislike.
Because he understands that the ICC would likely be used as a political and public relations battering ram by a host of anti-American accusers, President Bush has chosen, unlike Tony Blair, not to make his country a signatory to the organization. This has exempted American officials from prosecution. Bush’s intent is to protect Americans against politically motivated lawsuits such as one recently filed by “human rights” attorneys in a Belgian court against General Tommy Franks and a colonel in the U.S. Marines for their roles in Operation Iraqi Freedom. This suit is founded on the 1993 “universal competence” law, which allows Belgian courts to rule on alleged crimes under international law, regardless of where they were committed, who committed them or who the victims were. The suit in question relates to around two dozen “crimes” that American troops are alleged to have committed during the Iraq war — such as firing upon ambulances, indiscriminately shooting civilians in the streets of Baghdad, and allowing looters to ransack a cultural center with impunity. The same universal competence law has also led to lawsuits against Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, former president George H. W. Bush, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Of course, the irony of these suits is that Operation Iraqi Freedom may be human history’s most remarkable example of an invading force taking great pains to strike only military and government targets so as to minimize civilian casualties. If the U.S. were to sign onto the ICC, our leaders would undoubtedly be subject to the same type of politically motivated witch hunts we have seen in the Belgian courts, and would be forced to defend themselves against trumped up or fabricated charges before a tribunal composed of anti-American foreigners. The fate of Americans ought not be decided by foreign accusers, judges, and jurors with no accountability and a large axe to grind.
As we have seen many times in recent decades, the U.S. is both willing and able to prosecute American wrongdoers even in the very highest positions of power. (Look at My Lai, for one example.) This fact, which distinguishes our country from most other nations on the globe, renders the ICC absolutely unnecessary for the U.S. It would be folly of the highest order to set up a situation where America, which underwrites nearly one-fourth of the United Nations’ operational funding, had its foreign policy held hostage by the UN’s ICC. Between 1946 and 1996, America contributed more than $32 billion to the UN. Beyond that, our country has paid at least $22 billion since 1992 to support UN-authorized peacekeeping missions around the world. Ours is not a country that shirks its international responsibilities. Yet despite the ongoing human rights abuses in the Arab world and sub-Saharan Africa, it is Americans who would be the first to be prosecuted by the ICC for its pro-freedom foreign policy.
President Bush, in his efforts to safeguard America’s fighting men from this dangerous internationalist bureaucracy, has already lobbied a host of world leaders to pledge that they will not bring Americans before the ICC. More than fifty countries have complied to date. Bush has also suspended more than $47 million in military aid to thirty-five countries that have refused to sign such immunity agreements with Washington. For taking this step, he has been roundly criticized by a chorus of international voices, many citing Jimmy Carter’s recent pronouncement that the ICC’s establishment represents “a watershed in our collective struggle for justice in the world.” But as Americans know all-too-well, Mr. Carter’s instincts in foreign affairs have been consistently abysmal. It is good to have a President whose actions protect Americans, rather than reward America’s enemies; one who is unwilling to bind his nation’s well-being to the latest internationalist shibboleths; and one who is brave enough to take an unpopular stand in order to protect his own people and liberate a foreign land from a genuine human rights abuser. In fact, President Bush is not unlike Tony Blair, the alleged “war criminal.” Should America ever sign onto the ICC, he will likely share a similar fate, alongside every future leader who believes in freedom.