March 13, 2007

Scholars Debate U.S. Role in International Criminal Court

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Last night, Prof. Jeremy Rabkin government and John Washburn, a convener of the American Non-Governmental organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court, spoke about U.S. foreign policy in a debate entitled, “Seeking Global Justice: Should the United States Joint the International Criminal Court.”

Washburn began the debate with a brief statement on his views concerning the United States and the ICC. He maintained that, while ratification of the Rome Statute is not likely anytime soon, he desires for the United States to move toward increased participation in and support of the ICC. According to Washburn, the policies of the ICC are close enough to United States policies that the court could be helpful to the U.S., and he also believes that it is necessary for the United States to be involved in the court’s preliminary stages.

“The court is now established and is in operation. It is dealing with cases which even this administration feel it is in our interest to deal with,” Washburn said. “It is essential that the United States has influence over the court as it completes itself and takes on its final form.”

After Washburn spoke, Rabkin rose to the podium to give his assessment of the situation. He made it immediately clear that he has very little faith in the capabilities of the court. As a result, he believes that it is necessary for the United States to remain on the sidelines and not entangle itself in an international institution that could potentially hinder its ability to conduct foreign policy.

“It is not likely that [the court] will do good, but it is very likely that it will do harm, and it is important for us to say this is not something we approved,” Rabkin said.

Rabkin also argued that the ICC allows countries and individuals to feel as if they are making a difference when, no decisive action is being taken.

“[The ICC is] almost silly,” he said. “It’s just not important and one of the bad things is that you get false reassurance … decent people are concerned and so they send [the case] to the international criminal court and they don’t do anything worth doing … this is not a serious response.”

The debate also focused heavily on the role of the ICC prosecutor. Rabkin was also very concerned with the amount of power the prosecutor holds. Rabkin said that it is unlikely that any one person is able to rise above political interests and consistently make good and fair decisions, especially when dealing with so many different countries and cultures.

“To believe this is possible,” he said, “You are attributing almost miraculous political skill to someone who, in any political house, is going to be an outsider.”

Washburn decisively argued against this point.

“This prosecutor does not have unlimited powers,” he said. “He is hired and can be fired by the assembly of state parties … [and] every state of the prosecution is under the control and subject to review by judges.”

Many of the individuals involved maintained that the most important function of the debate was just to keep students informed and to make them think about the issue at hand.

“It’s hugely timely,” said Washburn. “We have had a complete change in Congress and we now have senators and congress persons who are open to the court and who are in positions of power and influence.”

“The court has now been operational for about four years…[and it] is probably the most important international criminal association created since Nuremburg,” said Prof. David Wippman, the debate moderator. “This is an important time for students to be thinking about whether or not this is something the United States should be part of.”

The ICC was negotiated in 1998 during a United Nations diplomatic conference in Rome and came into power in July of 2002. The Court is an international institution dedicated to prosecuting major human rights offenders. The United States, under the Clinton administration, signed the Rome Statute in 1998, but then unsigned it when President Bush came into power.

Some students who attended the debate thought that overall the debate was both informative and entertaining.

“You could really tell who was the diplomat and who was the professor,” said Jake Lewis ’09. “I thought their styles were very contrasting and interesting. I thought both were very convincing, but Rabkin made a better case.”