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For the Individuals or for Energy? Wielding the ICC Gavel in a World of Energy Politics

World justice has been a defining problem of worldwide politics within the post-World Battle II period, following the institution of worldwide legal tribunals with the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials. As a central and interesting pillar within the efforts of worldwide justice, I’ll right here utilise the Worldwide Felony Court docket (the ICC or ‘the Court docket’) as a recent indicator of the hunt for dishing out justice internationally. Since its inception, public and tutorial debate alike has fluctuated between enthusiastic optimism, celebrating the potentiality of the Court docket, and scathing criticisms of the Court docket’s ‘utter failure’ in its twenty years of existence. A generally repeated argument cautions towards the truth that the ICC just isn’t solely embroiled inside, but in addition inevitably compromised by, worldwide energy politics.

Curious as to the extent of this declare, within the following account I’ll interrogate examples of how the Court docket’s actions proceed to be stymied by the use of two central problematics: (a) the position of the United Nations Safety Council (UNSC) and the Everlasting 5 (P5) in shaping the Court docket’s collection of Conditions for investigation, together with the actual affect granted to the US (US); and (b) the sensible misuse of the 1998 Rome Statute precept of ‘complementarity’, as witnessed in Sudan and Uganda. I’ll tease out this argument by way of first introducing the Court docket and the 1998 Rome Statute on which it’s based, earlier than discussing the extent to which the P5 – specializing in the US – governs the Court docket’s actions. I finish with difficult the declare that the ICC is just a playground for worldwide Nice Energy politics, by discussing the expertise of the Court docket in Sudan and Uganda.

As an alternative of solely being the results of such Nice Energy struggles, I discover that the Court docket’s makes an attempt to implement world justice suffers from its state of affairs inside worldwide state politics writ giant. This turns into seen within the dynamics shaping the ICC’s involvement in Darfur and Northern Uganda, given African governments’ personal methods of navigating ICC selections. Whether or not the Court docket is responsible of a neo-colonial ‘African bias’ needs to be reimagined in gentle of its utility for African state actors in manoeuvring ongoing conflicts and asserting their worldwide standing. Total, the reply to the successes and failures of the Court docket, and so its final potential, is thus much more complicated than a easy nod to the self-interests of Nice Powers.

Introducing the Court docket and the Rome Statute

In 1995, the UN Normal Meeting started formal negotiations on the establishing of a everlasting legal tribunal, ensuing within the 1998 Rome Statute. First signed by 120 states, the Statute was then ratified in 2002. The Court docket’s jurisdiction covers the classes of crimes towards humanity, warfare crimes, genocide and the crime of aggression (Article 5). It responded to lengthy voiced pledges for a world mechanism to finish impunity for mass atrocities and supply justice on behalf of humanity (Sikkink 2012, 33). To this finish, the Court docket would transcend the jurisdictional boundaries of nation-states and their reliance on absolute sovereignty to guard state actors from prosecution. This transgression of sovereignty nonetheless, would solely be viable as a final resort – a supranational means for justice when all different judicial processes had been failing (Clark 2018, 64).

To make sure this, the ideas of distance, complementarity and admissibility had been constructed into the Rome Statute and related discourses. Distance, on the one hand, underscores the Court docket’s operate as an neutral and formally impartial physique untainted by the historical past and politics of the Conditions into which it intervenes (Bosco 2014, 2; Clark 2018, 34). Complementarity, on the opposite, guidelines that the Court docket ought to solely operate as complimentary to, reasonably than in search of to outdo or intrude with, current nationwide methods. This entails a major emphasis on interdependence between State Events parallel to the independence envisioned by the precept of distance (Clark 2018, 25-26). Admissibility, moreover, accommodates the authorized provisions deriving from the precept of complementarity figuring out when Conditions are both admissible or inadmissible earlier than the Court docket, particularly stressing the ICC’s non-interfering wherever there may be “real State motion” (2018, 25; Article 17).

In observe nonetheless, the valorisation of distance and its accompanying depiction of the Court docket as a superior type of justice, has seemingly far exceeded the Court docket’s respect for complementarity – which in flip has resulted within the compromising of the precept of admissibility (see Clark 2018). The extent to which the ICC, as a central cog within the quest for world justice, is jeopardized by worldwide energy politics can consequently be discerned from the professing of those ideas on the one hand, and the contradictory nature of their implementation on the opposite.

World Justice and Nice Energy Politics: The Court docket and the P5

Since its inception in 2002, the Court docket has endured important criticism regarding its susceptibility to Nice Energy pursuits. Given the dearth of govt powers of its personal, the resultant reliance on State participation and the position of UNSC referrals and deferrals of potential Conditions, many have located the ICC throughout the constructions of a world politics of hegemony. Particularly, the truth that solely two of the entire variety of Conditions beneath investigation since 2002 concern areas outdoors of the African continent, has triggered a proliferation of literature viewing the Court docket as one more piece within the modern equipment of neo-colonialism (Clark 2018, 51). Earlier than problematizing the presentation of main powers as one way or the other all-powerful wielders of the Court docket, the next part explores the connection between the ICC and ‘states with world pursuits and affect’ (Bosco 2014, 1) – with a notable emphasis on the US.

To this point, the one Statute signatories of ‘weight’ globally talking, comprise the UK (UK), France, Germany, Japan and Brazil. In contrast, the US, China, Russia, India, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, amongst others, stay at arm’s size from ratifying the Court docket. Curiously, all through the ICC’s case historical past – together with each opened and rejected investigations – it’s seemingly non-members, with an emphasis on the US, China and Russia, who’ve loved a big say in shaping ICC outcomes (see Mamdani 2008). That is so due to Article’s 13(b), 15 and 16 of the Rome Statute endowing the UNSC with the facility to each refer and defer Court docket Conditions. Aside from State Celebration referrals or Prosecutor initiatives, the UNSC Everlasting 5 (P5) thus collectively maintain the third and remaining avenue for ICC case choice. Referrals have taken place twice, in Sudan (Darfur) 2005 after which Libya 2011 (Jalloh 2017, 181). As each Conditions had been outdoors of ICC jurisdiction given neither state are Statute signatories, the Safety Council’s referrals had been first celebrated as proof of a brand new worldwide regime of accountability superseding each sovereign authority and Nice Energy politics within the title of victims of mass atrocity (Jalloh 2017, 181). Quickly nonetheless, the double-standards of P5 affect over Court docket actions had been to floor.   

As a primary instance, the Council’s incapability to refer the State of affairs of Syria is very illustrative of the tug-of-war between P5 (thus Nice Energy) pursuits in figuring out UNSC and ICC relations. Regardless of deaths in Syria far outreaching estimations from Darfur and Libya, no political settlement was reached enabling a Council referral (Jalloh 2017, 196). As a result of Syria just isn’t a Statute signatory and given the Syrian authorities’s personal involvement within the battle, a UNSC referral could be the one strategy to search worldwide legal justice for the atrocities of the civil warfare raging since 2011. Competing pursuits in sustaining the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in energy or having him eliminated, led Russia and China (within the president’s camp) to veto France’s (supported by the UK) request for a UNSC referral to the ICC Prosecutor (ibid., p.195). The US has been equally reluctant to refer the Syrian State of affairs, probably in worry of inadvertently shedding gentle on the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights which the US is backing (Aoláin 2013).

By the use of a second instance, to have the ability to abstain as an alternative of putting a direct veto towards UNSC Resolution 1593 that requested the referral of Darfur to the ICC in 2005, the US ensured that the Decision included the so-called ‘bilateral immunity agreements’ (BIAs), whereby ‘signatory states pledged not to give up US individuals, together with residents and international contractors employed by that state, to the ICC’ (Jalloh 2017, 191). Moreover, ‘in one more Council nod to the issues of the US’ (ibid.), Decision 1593 averted imposing the total authorized obligation on all UN members to collaborate with the Court docket. By putting the accountability of full cooperation solely on the Sudanese authorities and the opposite remaining events concerned within the battle, this served to additional hinder each scrutiny of and assist from different states or organisations in effectuating the ICC’s work in Sudan.

There’s a lengthy listing of instances exemplifying the US’ position in shaping – both impeding or facilitating – ICC exercise, that warrant specific consideration. The latest instance is aptly illustrated by the Pre-Trial Chamber’s rejection of the Workplace of the Prosecutor’s (OTP) request to start official investigations into warfare crimes and crimes towards humanity in Afghanistan, a choice reached by the Chamber judges in April 2019 (ICC-02/17; Saeed 2019). Allegations to be investigated included ‘Battle crimes by members of [the US] armed forces on the territory of Afghanistan’ and ‘by members of the US Central Intelligence Company in secret detention services in Afghanistan’ (OTP 2017). The Prosecutor’s request was issued in 2017. Earlier than lengthy, the Trump administration made certain it might not cooperate in facilitating investigations into the Afghan State of affairs (Evenson 2018). The administration additional sought energetic methods to hinder inspection into both US or US’ allied nationals, together with visa bans for ICC employees, threatening with prosecutions and monetary sanctions towards ICC personnel or any State Celebration concerned in potential investigations of US or allied residents, in addition to probably reopening bilateral immunity agreements’ lobbying (HRW 2019).

Consequently, in gentle of the US’ aggressive response to the Prosecutor’s request to open official investigations into Afghanistan, the Pre-Trial Chamber determined to reject it given the dearth of State Events’ cooperation and the inevitable lack of assets and political will. Launching investigations ‘at this stage’, the judges argued, would solely disappoint the victims in query and thus not serve the ‘pursuits of justice’ (ICC-02/17, 32). This ‘choice interprets [into the fact] that political concerns trump authorized necessities’, probably elucidating the extent to which ‘the worldwide justice regime conveniently tolerates impunity in an effort to safeguard the pursuits of the hegemonic powers and their political priorities’ (Saeed 2019).

‘African Bias’ or ‘Weak’ States Pulling the Strings? 

The above part underscores the widely-held declare that the Court docket is little however an influence political instrument with a selected operate in perpetuating colonial legacies of the worldwide distribution of energy, notably relating to questions of who’s entitled to the sovereign proper of non-interference and whose sovereignty is made malleable within the title of ‘accountability’ and ‘justice’ for ‘humanity’ (see: Çubukçu 2013). I agree with the notion that main powers get pleasure from a considerably extra influential position in shaping ICC actions, particularly regarding UNSC State of affairs referral talents in accordance with the particular pursuits of the P5, together with the flexibility of superpowers just like the US to safeguard the impunity of American and allied nationals. Nonetheless, stopping at this conclusion quantities to a vital simplification or discount of the situation into which the ICC was launched and has been compelled to navigate ever since. Theories of an inherent ‘African bias’ – reminiscent of Mamdani (2010, 66) arguing that ‘the ICC is popping right into a Western courtroom to attempt African perpetrators of mass crimes’ – lose a few of their readability when juxtaposed to countering views which as an alternative illuminate the diploma to which the Court docket depends upon state cooperation writ giant, reasonably than falling prey to a handful of world influencers. This predicament of the Court docket will be gaged by way of its involvement with each Sudan and Uganda.  

When Decision 1593 was handed, referring the State of affairs of Darfur to the ICC, it determined to intervene the place a number of different battle decision efforts had been already in place – particularly the United Nations-African Union (AU) hybrid peacekeeping mission of UNAMID, and alongside important AU participation in facilitating peace negotiations between the Sudanese authorities and Janjaweed rebels. Upon the Court docket’s issuing of an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, the AU ‘repeatedly known as on the UNSC to use article 16 to “defer the method initiated by the ICC”’ (Jalloh 2017, 202). Supported partly by China and Russia, the AU argued that Sudan required ‘a complete political answer’ which ICC interference would solely undermine (2017, 203).

Reiterating the ICC Prosecutor’s concern for constructing instances and proving the Court docket’s value – underpinned by the sense of superiority emanating from the discourses of ‘distance’ on which the OTP primarily based its rationale for intervening in Darfur – the UNSC choice to not pressure a deferral of ICC proceedings towards Bashir is telling of what Clark (2018, 302) calls the ‘complacency of complementarity’. As an alternative of being attentive to de facto wants on the bottom and root sources to the battle, the UNSC at the side of the ICC Prosecutor paved method for a ‘distanced’ type of justice, extra detrimental than constructive to Darfur’s prospects for peace (Clark 2018, 17; Mamdani 2008; Krever 2014, 84). Importantly, nonetheless, the AU didn’t merely acquiesce to UNSC and ICC selections. As an alternative, the Council’s refusal to defer the Darfur State of affairs led to a veritable backlash in ICC operations and legitimacy. To this point, voted on in 2009 and thus making use of to all fifty-four AU member-states, the AU has cooperated in protecting al-Bashir from ICC capturing (Jalloh 2017, 182). Burundi, the Gambia and South Africa moreover formally withdrew from the Statute in 2016 as a response to the Court docket’s insensitivity and problematization of ICC interventions, and, equally, the ‘UNSC downside’, particularly, continues to be a central problem on the AU agenda (Jalloh 2017, 186).

The ICC presence in Uganda additional underlines the failure of the ideas of interdependence and admissibility in  the Court docket operations within the discipline. In 2003, Ugandan President Musevini self-referred the State of affairs in Northern Uganda on the subject of the Lord’s Resistance Military (LRA) to the Prosecutor. If the ICC had absolutely revered the Statute precept of complementarity, Department (2007, 186) argues, Museveni’s referral wouldn’t have been legally admissible earlier than the Court docket. That is so, provided that the Ugandan state ‘was not “unable” to prosecute sure LRA commanders, besides that it had didn’t seize them; and it was not “unwilling” to prosecute, besides that it wished the ICC’s intervention to delegitimate peace talks and the Amnesty Act’ (Department 2007, 187). As seen once more in Darfur, provided that the Rome Statute had come into full pressure solely a 12 months earlier, the OTP was in determined pursuit of a primary case by way of which to show the establishment’s potentiality (Clark 2018, 64). Consequently, Museveni might utilise this predicament to ‘settle [his own] scores’ (Krever 2014, 83). Most significantly, by way of referring the LRA to the ICC, Museveni ensured the immunity of his personal state employees and armed forces from worldwide prosecution regardless of their equal participation within the violence dealing with the civilian populations of Acholiland (Department 2007, 188).      

The Ugandan context thus illustrates two problematics. Aside from countering the declare that the Court docket will solely function as a back-stop to nationwide establishments, Uganda is a key instance of how the US makes use of its world political affect to both impede or facilitate ICC exercise because it pleases. In distinction to Afghanistan and Syria the place US nationals or allies threat indictment (ensuing within the US impeding ICC investigations), or to Libya and Darfur comprising two heads of state antithetical to US’ regional pursuits (ensuing within the US facilitating ICC investigations), Museveni get pleasure from shut political ties to the US authorities. Any motion that would serve the curiosity of the Ugandan state in its army and political wrestle towards the insurgent insurgents (labelled as a terrorist organisation by the US Division of State) would thus get pleasure from US assist (Krever 2014; Mamdani 2010). Nonetheless, Uganda additionally reveals how ‘[instrumentalization of] the Court docket for political functions’ (Krever 2014, 83) just isn’t restricted to Nice Energy issues, however is equally revealing of the flexibility of ‘weaker’ states to utilise the Court docket for political positive factors. If the AU’s response to ICC intervention in Darfur represents resistance to the notion of the Court docket as neo-colonial, ‘the ICC’s shortcoming [in Uganda] has reasonably been its failure to insulate itself from political manipulation by African states’ (Clark 2018, 99).


Sudan, Libya, Uganda, Syria and Afghanistan respectively illustrate the sculpting of world justice efforts in response to Nice Energy issues. Uganda and Sudan particularly underpin the ICC’s tendency to prioritise its personal institutional growth over de facto implementation of justice for victims. All 5 examples reveal the extent of significantly US affect over ICC measures. Conversely, Uganda additionally demonstrates the reversal of this course of by way of underpinning the flexibility of ‘weaker’ states to make energetic use of the Court docket to win home political struggles. Musevini’s referral of the Ugandan state of affairs discloses the Court docket’s inevitable dependency on State Events and so its consequent malleability by various and parochial pursuits throughout the nation-state system writ giant. Sudan moreover highlights the affect wielded by much less clout-heavy states when standing collectively towards main powers’ utilization of the Court docket.

The ICC stays responsible of a ‘complacency of complementarity’, whereby the Court docket heralds the dishing out of distanced justice over respecting current nationwide processes, typically simplifying essentially complicated responses to battle and violence right into a one-sided judicial answer of particular person legal accountability. The Darfur case makes this particularly clear: making an attempt to ascertain its personal credibility as a newly fledged establishment, the ICC required a head to roll in order to sign the efficiency of the Court docket – all on the expense of already intricate home struggles for accountability and reconciliation.

Nonetheless, the ICC’s complacency-complex continues to happen throughout the Court docket’s inevitable dependency on state cooperation. As an alternative of an all-powerful train in hegemonic energy, the Worldwide Felony Court docket (re)seems as a physique made pliable to a various vary of state targets. As a lot as this confirms the massive diploma to which the seek for world justice is compromised by worldwide energy politics, my evaluation contests reductionist understandings of energy as solely residing with the hegemons of the worldwide order. As an alternative, although nonetheless granted its uneven utility, it locates energy as dispersed throughout ‘main’ powers to the massive array of ‘minor’ states. What this implies for the efficacy of the Court docket and its prospects to ever be absolutely on the service of the particular individuals beneath its (alleged) safety, must be judged by its exercise within the coming decade. An attention-grabbing case to regulate to this finish, would be the Court docket’s response to a name made in 2020 demanding that the ICC begins an investigation into the European arms merchants and authorities officers’ complicity within the warfare crimes in Yemen. What a possibility for the Court docket to point out its true colors.


Aoláin, Ní. Fionnuala. 2013. ‘Why the US failure to assist an ICC referral for Syria doesn’t shield Israel (or American pursuits’, Simply Safety, October 14. Retrieved at: https://www.justsecurity.org/1905/failure-support-icc-referral-syria-protect-israel-or-american-interests-2/ [Accessed 2019-12-19]

Bosco, D. 2014. Tough Justice: The Worldwide Felony Court docket in a World of Energy Politics. Oxford College Press.

Department, A. 2007. “Uganda’s civil warfare and the politics of ICC intervention.” Ethics & Worldwide Affairs 21 (2): 179–198.

Clark, Phil. 2018. Distant justice: The affect of the Worldwide Felony Court docket on African politics. Cambridge: Cambridge College Press.

Çubukçu, Ayça. 2013. “The Duty to Shield: Libya and the Drawback of Transnational Solidarity.” Journal of Human Rights 12 (1): 40-58.

Evenson, Elizabeth. 2018. ‘US Takes Intention on the Worldwide Felony Court docket: Bolton Tirade Prompted by Looming Afghanistan Investigation’, Human Rights Watch, September 11. Retrieved at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/11/us-takes-aim-international-criminal-court [Accessed 2019-12-19]  

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Mamdani, M. 2008. ‘Darfur, ICC and New Humanitarian Order’, Pambazuka Information, September 17. Retrieved at: https://www.pambazuka.org/governance/darfur-icc-and-new-humanitarian-order. [Accessed 2019-12-18]

Mamdani, Mahmood. 2010. “Duty to Shield or Proper to Punish?” Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 4 (1): 53-67.

Workplace of the Prosecutor [OTP]. 2017. ‘The Prosecutor of the Worldwide Felony Court docket, Fatou Bensouda, requests judicial authorisation to start an investigation into the State of affairs within the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’, Worldwide Felony Court docket, November 20. Retrieved at: https://www.icc-cpi.int//Pages/item.aspx?name=171120-otp-stat-afgh [Accessed 2019-12-19]

Pre-Trial Chamber II. 2019. ‘State of affairs within the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’, Worldwide Felony Court docket, April 12. Retrieved at: https://www.icc-cpi.int/CourtRecords/CR2019_02068.PDF [Accessed 2019-12-19]

Saeed, Huma. 2019. ‘A slap within the face of justice: the ICC and Afghanistan’, safety praxis, Could 8. Retrieved at: https://securitypraxis.eu/afghanistan-icc/ [Accessed 2019-12-19]

Sikkink, Kathryn. 2012. “The Age of Accountability: The World Rise of Particular person Felony Accountability.” In Amnesty in the Age of Human Rights Accountability : Comparative and Worldwide Views, edited by Francesca Lessa and A. Leigh Payne, 19-41. Cambridge College Press.

United Nations [UN] Normal Meeting. 1998. ‘Rome Statute of the Worldwide Felony Court docket’, July 17. Retrieved at: https://www.icc-cpi.int/NR/rdonlyres/ADD16852-AEE9-4757-ABE7-9CDC7CF02886/283503/RomeStatutEng1.pdf [Accessed 2019-12-18]

Waddell, N, and P Clark. 2008. Courting Battle? Justice, Peace and the ICC in Africa. London: Royal African Society.

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