The establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague is a testament to liberal normative aspiration in international politics—the conviction that there should be a neutral juridical body, beyond the influence of the ebb and flow of political power among states, that is capable of holding the perpetrators of atrocities or aggression to account. Now, more than twenty years after the negotiation of the 1998 Rome Statute––the treaty establishing the court––and coming up on seventeen years since the ICC entered into force in 2002 with the ratification by sixty state-parties, one vexing question for proponents of international justice is that of how far beyond mere aspiration the court has managed to get.
The U.S. government has had a highly ambivalent attitude toward the ICC from the beginning. Washington long supported a jurisdictional procedure for an international criminal court that would require a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution for the court to begin an investigation. The UNSC had previously authorized the establishment of special international tribunals to deal with atrocities in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Requiring UNSC action for a free-standing tribunal would, of course, subject its jurisdiction to a veto by any of the five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council. For many proponents of international justice, this potential limitation was unacceptable. “A court worth having,” as then Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy insisted, was incompatible with impunity at the behest of the P5. The Rome Statute thus also allowed the prosecutor to assert jurisdiction proprio motu (on her own motion) upon obtaining evidence that atrocities had been committed by a national of a state-party to the Rome Statute or on the territory of a state party. Continue reading