Efforts to expand the scope of the International Criminal Court during a review conference taking place this week in Kampala enjoy broad support among rights advocates, but many governments have expressed reservations. The imbalance between the desire to protect human rights and the judicial means to do so at the international level remains one of the largest gaping holes in the global human rights effort.
“Relying on national infrastructures battered by conflict or controlled by the very perpetrators of these crimes is not enough. If we expect to achieve a world without genocide, a world free of horrific war crimes and a world where every citizen’s freedoms and rights are protected, then we need to recognize that some crimes go beyond the borders of any one nation and affect us all as human beings,” Jane Wales, vice president of the Aspen Institute’s Philanthropy and Society Program, wrote in the Huffington Post.
Like many within the rights community, the Open Society Institute’s James Goldston believes the time has come to address the role of states — which have proven both an important support base and a limitation for the ICC. The Kampala conference, says Goldston, offers “member states a chance to assume their proper place in the international system of accountability for atrocities.”
Among the proposals being considered is one giving the ICC authority to prosecute crimes of aggression against leaders who use or authorize the use of gases, liquids or weaponry that cause unnecessary suffering during domestic conflicts and crowd control. The court’s existing mandate gives it power to seek prosecutions on war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
The ICC was created in 2002 and has already conducted trials against former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and former Liberian leader Charles Taylor. Current investigations include alleged crimes in Darfur, Sudan and Uganda.
Currently 111 countries are signed up to the court, and many support the addition of crimes of aggression to its dockets, according to the New York Times. Great Britain and France — along with non-signatories China, Russia and the United States — oppose the expansion.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on every country in the world to sign on to the ICC, in order to give universal acceptance to the world’s first, and only, permanent international rights court.
Diplomatic wrangling over the ICC’s scope demonstrates how far the international community has come over the last six decades in the fight to protect peoples’ basic human rights. Yet, it is at the same time a prime example of the challenges the global community still faces in ensuring that those protections are universal.