The International Criminal Court (ICC) is set to gain jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. For the first time since the end of World War II, world leaders could be held accountable for waging war. States parties are expected to vote on an amendment that will close the last major gap in the court’s founding treaty, extending the ICC’s jurisdiction beyond the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Should the amendment be activated, however, the hurdles to its application, interpretations of its meaning, and the political interests involved cast doubt on whether aggression will be prosecuted any time soon.
Imperatives for peace and for justice often seem to collide in many conflict and post-conflict situations. The immediate inspiration for this article was the recent arrest in Northern Ireland of Sinn Fein politician Gerry Adams in connection with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville. Coming right before European and local elections the arrest had immediate political consequences for the stability of Northern Ireland and the success of the ongoing peace process in the province. It also highlighted the continued lack of agreement for how to handle the legacy of past killings despite sixteen years of relative calm.
This problem is especially acute in modern conflicts. Today’s wars tend to be messy civil ones, often with a bewildering kaleidoscope of armed actors. Unlike the interstate wars of the past, there is often no obvious victor to a struggle, and often no clear-cut chain of command. Instead, there is a usually a messy list of atrocities, at the end of which is a patched-together political settlement that sometimes holds, and sometimes does not. To return to the example of Northern Ireland, many sources allege Gerry Adams to have been a senior Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader responsible for ordering bombings and murders in the 1970s and 80s (Adams denies this). His detention by police investigating the McConville murder could easily have led to widespread rioting in Republican parts of Belfast. It may yet lead to Loyalists withdrawing from the unity government, so toxic is the issue in the Protestant community.
Editor’s note: this article was first published on JiC on 11 December 2013.
The Central African Republic (CAR) is “descending into chaos“. In the past few months, violence and instability in the country have proliferated. In November, the French Foreign Minister even used the ‘g-word’ to describe the situation in the CAR, declaring that ”[t]he country is on the verge of genocide”. Jean Ging, of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, similarly suggested that the country is sowing the “seeds of genocide“.
In response to the crisis, the international community has immersed itself knee-deep into another military and humanitarian intervention. [In the week of 2 December 2013], the UN Security Council unanimously authorized France and African Union forces to use “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. The African Union and the UN Security Council have their work cut out for them. In endorsing international intervention into the CAR, the International Crisis Group stated:
It is a regular occurrence to hear how the International Criminal Court (ICC) serves the interests of particular actors, be it warring governments, rebel groups, or members of the international community more broadly. Rarely, however, have scholars and observers considered how the ICC’s decision-making is shaped by the ICC’s own ‘institutional self-interest’.
At the heart of criticisms that the ICC is ‘political’ is the view that the Court is inherently and inevitably selective. This critique is deployed both within and between situations. In cases such as Uganda, Cote d’Ivoire and Libya, it is argued that the ICC has erred in targeting only one side of the conflict. Alternatively, it is argued that the Court focuses myopically on the weakest states in the international community (see the ICC-Africa debate), leaving situations where major power interests collide (e.g. Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan) beyond the reach of international justice.
More than 700 Nigerians have died so far this year in over 80 attacks associated with Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group that a recent United States report ranked as the second most deadly in the world after the Taliban in Afghanistan. Most of the deaths occurred in March and April (208 and 335 respectively), confirming the alarming dimension of Boko Haram’s atrocities in Nigeria.
In one attack in Baga, on 19 April 2013, Boko Haram militants confronted Nigerian security forces in a gun battle that left 260 people dead and nearly a thousand injured. This was the deadliest Boko Haram attack since 2009, when the group catapulted onto the global stage following violent riots that resulted in the death of over 800 people in northern Nigeria. Since then it is estimated that Boko Haram has killed nearly 4 000 people and injured several thousands more.