Why Bolton’s Attack on the ICC Shouldn’t be Ignored

John R. Bolton speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Picture retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

Written by Alfred Spencer

This week Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, decided that the International Criminal Court (ICC) was “fundamentally illegitimate” and “outright dangerous”. This followed the ICC’s decision to consider prosecuting US servicemen over possible detainee abuse in Afghanistan. The ICC also stated that it would be investigating the Taliban and the Afghan National Security Forces. Not only is this attack on the ICC unjustified, it’s dangerous. In Bolton’s speech he also used inflammatory language to delegitimize the ICC. In doing so he has gained the attention of human rights organizations across the world.

To understand why such an attack on the ICC is important one must first understand the purpose of the organization. The ICC is an intergovernmental organization that was founded in 2002. Based out of the Hague it has the jurisdiction to prosecute those responsible for international crimes. These crimes include war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and crimes of aggression. Nations that ratified the Rome Statute became members. There are 123 nations that are part of the ICC.

In 1998 the Rome Statute was adopted. The vote that took place saw 120 nations vote in its favor with 7 countries voting against it and 21 abstentions. The countries that voted against it were Iraq, Israel, Libya, China, Qatar, Yemen and the United States. In 2000 US President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute however, it wasn’t submitted to the Senate for ratification. After signing the Rome Statute Clinton stated, “The United States should have the chance to observe and assess the functioning of the court, over time, before choosing to become subject to its jurisdiction. Given these concerns, I will not, and do not recommend that my successor, submit the treaty to the Senate for advice and consent until our fundamental concerns are satisfied…” In 2002 during the founding of the ICC the Bush administration decided that the US would not join the ICC. John Bolton was a senior official when this decision was made. Later the Obama administration would involve the US with the ICC by making the US an observer.

The ICC isn’t a perfect organization and it has had its ups and downs over the years but the reason for its founding and the good it has done far outweighs what some might perceive as problematic. So far, the prosecutor has initiated investigations in Uganda, Mali, Libya, Kenya, Georgia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Darfur, the Ivory Coast, the Central African Republic, and Burundi. The office of the prosecutor has also started investigating situations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Gabon, Guinea, the UK in relation to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Nigeria, Palestine, the Philippines, Greece, Cambodia, Ukraine, and Venezuela.  The ICC has also indicted 42 people, issued arrest warrants for 34 people, and summonses to 8 people. The ICC has also tried, convicted and incarcerated 8 people for such things as war crimes and crimes of aggression.

“We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.” This excerpt from Bolton’s speech about the ICC clearly illustrates that the US currently has no interest in helping defend human rights. This paired with the fact that the US withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) while calling it a, “hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights”, is cause for alarm. Adotei Akewi, Deputy Advocacy and Government Relations for Amnesty International USA, responded to the recent attacks on the ICC stating, “The ICC prosecutes the most serious crimes under international law – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression. Resuming attacks against the Court sends a dangerous signal that the United States is hostile to human rights and the rule of law.”

Human rights aren’t something that can be taken away nor are they something that shouldn’t be respected. Right now, the US is setting a very dangerous precedent. By withdrawing from the UNHRC and publicly attacking an organization that amongst other things works to prevent genocide could encourage other nations to do the same. Not only does this attack erode an institution that took decades to create and has done a lot of good for the world it sets the precedent that human rights are something that one can choose to either respect or ignore.

About the author: Alfred Spencer is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs with a minor in International Law at Vesalius College in Brussels, Belgium. 

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