The International Criminal Court (ICC) was created to end impunity for perpetrators of the most heinous crimes, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, when nations are unwilling or unable to prosecute. The establishment of the ICC not only offers a way to punish war atrocities, but also deters would-be abusers from even contemplating committing genocide and other serious international crimes.
International criminal justice is important not only to secure justice for victims, but also to preserve rule of law and promote greater peace, security, and stability in an otherwise tumultuous world. When courts dispense justice, aggrieved individuals and communities are less likely to take matters into their own hands, which can escalate into serious conflicts with spillover effects for all. National courts can occasionally prosecute these crimes, but are sometimes not willing or able to do so.
Pursuant to its mandate, the I.C.C.’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has asked the court’s judges to authorize an investigation of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since 2003, including allegations of torture by members of the U.S. military and agents of the Central Intelligence Agency. This has sparked an extraordinary attack by the United States National Security Advisor John Bolton against the ICC. Bolton is quoted to have warned that: “I want to deliver a clear and unambiguous message on behalf of the President of the United States. The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court. We will not cooperate with the I.C.C. We will provide no assistance to the I.C.C. And, certainly, we will not join the I.C.C. We will let the I.C.C. die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the I.C.C. is already dead to us.”
This attack not only dismisses the principle of accountability for war crimes, but reinforces the Donald Trump administration’s repugnant policy of exceptionalism, whereby the US demands adherence to international law by all countries except itself. For a president who has declared US supremacy his foreign affairs doctrine and strongly opposes multilateralism, this move would only be consequent. It should be recalled that, the Trump administration has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council, threatened to leave the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and stopped funding UNRWA, the UN agency tasked with supporting Palestinian refugees. From this perspective, Bolton’s remarks are not so much about the ICC but rather about the policy decisions of the US government. The opposition to the ICC follows logically from Trump’s “America First” philosophy and the notion of US exceptionalism that has been shaping US foreign policy for many years – the idea that the United States is somewhat different from other countries. An independent international court is incompatible with this idea since the principle that there should be no differences and that no one should be above the law is deeply enshrined in the ICC’s DNA.
It is shortsighted for the Trump administration to undermine support for the important work the ICC does, as the court has played a significant role in advancing the rule of law globally. It is the position of this publication that the Trump administration should stop its quest to dismantle an institution whose sole purpose is to bring justice to victims of the most unimaginable atrocities. History will rightfully judge this pernicious policy as an affront to the dignity of mankind.