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Introducing this week's theme: The International Criminal Court - from a troubled past, what future for International Justice?

The Rome Statute established the ICC with an independent Prosecutor and a robust and comprehensive mandate to end impunity for the worst crimes.  But now, after a decade of operation, the Court finds itself facing criticism from all sides.     

Archana Pandya David Petrasek
3 November 2014

This week we are launching a series of articles that address the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Rome Statute established the ICC with an independent Prosecutor and a robust and comprehensive mandate to end impunity for the worst crimes. When dozens of states ratified the Rome Statute much more quickly than anticipated, hopes were high that the Court would make a significant contribution to ending impunity. But now, after a decade of operation, the Court finds itself facing criticism from all sides.    

Those working to resolve conflicts complain the Court’s investigations and indictments of warlords – though legally valid – obstruct or undermine peace negotiations. For some, the Security Council’s demand that the Court investigate war crimes in Libya and Darfur, but not elsewhere, has politicized the pursuit of international justice; and this pursuit, many allege, is too heavily focused on Africa, the origin of all of those who have been indicted.   

Moreover, after more than ten years, the Prosecutor has brought only 21 cases (involving 28 defendants); and only one of these cases has definitively concluded. The world needs an International Criminal Court.  But can this ‘utopian’ project succeed in an increasingly divided world, where politics, not law, still guides the great powers?     

Today we publish a piece by David Petrasek in which he surveys the problems facing the Court and asks the tough question – rather than muddling through, is the Court more likely to slide into greater controversy and, eventually, irrelevance? 

On Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, Priscilla Hayner and Mark Kersten examine the thorny problem of the Court’s impact on the pursuit of peace. Hayner argues the discretion granted to the ICC Prosecutor to weigh ‘the interests of justice’ in deciding whether to launch an investigation, ought to take into account the likely impact it will have on peace and reconciliation efforts; a position currently excluded under existing ICC policy. Kersten argues that the tension between peace and justice will continue to bedevil the ICC but that presently we have a very poor understanding of how it plays out. He suggests some key questions to guide further examination of the problem.

On Thursday and Friday we will run pieces that examine the ICC’s impact at the national level. First Njonjo Mue will survey the troubled story of the ICC investigations and indictment of suspects in Kenya, including the country’s current President and Deputy President. On Friday, Usha Ramanathan in India will show how that Rome Statute – which India has never ratified – has impacted the debate on impunity in that country.

Over the next weeks we will continue to publish pieces that both assess in general the Court’s performance and prospects, but also that look at its impact in particular countries, including Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Sudan and more.

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