The UN and the ICC must speak with one voice

by Hervé Pugi.

Too often considered as the strong arm of the Security Council, the International Criminal Court (ICC) actually works without a special mandate from the United Nations (UN).  This state of affairs was established by an agreement made on October 4th, 2004 regulating institutional relations between these two entities. In reality the court seems to be a kind of hostage (or willing victim) of geopolitical designs and issues which clearly go beyond its scope.

In international relations, partisan interests take (and will always take) precedence over all other matters regardless of the gravity of a situation or the atrocity contained in a particular file. Consequently, the UN headquarters – this highly symbolic place – is often the scene of utter confusion among the community of nations. How many critical situations were not dealt with appropriately because agreement could not be reached? And as for the incredulous public, particularly those at the forefront, the ones we call “the victims”, what are the real priorities of unscrupulous, mindless diplomats? And what about the ICC? It seems like the pianist who gets shot in the saloon bars of the Wild West…

All together now, let’s shout “veto”!

In chapter VII of the United Nations charter, the Security Council has power of referral to the prosecutor. How can we deny that up to now, the international community’s relationship with the ICC has been anything but harmonious? North Korea, Libya, Palestine or Syria, to name but a few, the world’s powers have not always been on the same legal wavelength. It must be noted that on the UN front the crime of obstruction of justice has never put anyone in prison.

However, in the hubbub of New York, Americans, Chinese or Russians all call in unison for a veto! It is the response to all agreements and disagreements on the various files on the Security Council’s agenda. In May, 2014, Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Vitali Tchourkine, said about Syria, “we believe that adoption of this resolution could lead to an escalation in conflict”. And what of the request to review the recommendation by the UN’s General Assembly to bring the issue of alleged crimes against humanity committed in North Korea before the ICC? The Chinese ambassador, Lio Jieyi, is categorical “we must avoid any action which could heighten tension”. As for the United States, we should never bring up the issue of bringing Israel to justice or of the possibility of Palestine joining the supranational judicial body. These issues seem to ring hollow in their ears.

Is the international criminal court supported in the attainment of its objectives?

Ironically, those who have the most influence in the UN do not have to deal with the ICC. Thus, the United States and Israel can be counted as States Parties to the Rome Statute (December 31st 2000) without ever having ratified it. The same goes for Russia. Washington even decided to withdraw its signature in 2002 and launched a ruthless behind-the-scenes crusade against the court; a scorched earth policy which came to an end in 2009. As for China, it refuses to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the ICC, arguing that the right of the prosecutor to lay charges could place the court under political influence. Are we having tricks played on us? Is the ICC being manipulated? This is something nobody wants to hear in the corridors of The Hague, but is nonetheless what some observers have been shouting from the rooftops for some time now.

If it’s about maintaining financial interests (oil in Darfur), justifying a military intervention (Libya) or changing a regime (the Ivory Coast), when the bugle sounds the alert, the International Criminal Court mounts a full-on offensive and starts legal proceedings infinitely more rapidly than the usual legal standards allow. Less than three months were needed to charge Kadhafi father and son with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The court has been known to be much more punctilious in its investigations.  This was all it took for some people to point the finger at the orchestrators of these events: Western Chancelleries. So, admittedly, between presumption of innocence and suspicion of complicity, any doubt will always and ever benefit the accused. And as for firm belief, it seems very obvious…

(Translated into English by Grace Cunnane)

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