On Wednesday, following increasing and persistent criticism over the annexation of Crimea and its military’s conduct in Syria, Russia followed the example of Gambia, Burundi and South Africa and stated its intention to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC)
Established in 2002 by the statute of Rome, the ICC can prosecute those accused of committing international crimes and those that national courts cannot or will not try themselves. Made up of 124 sovereign states, its jurisdiction gives it the authority to ensure international law can be enforced worldwide.
The decision by four sovereign states to withdraw from the ICC is a worrying sign for the future of the rule of law and the concept of human rights. Through its ability to bring government and military leaders to justice, the ICC has effectively acted as the ultimate court to prosecute war criminals and perpetrators of genocide.
The succession of separatisms from the ICC is not only an act of short-term gain but sets a long-term precedent; it enables countries, whether they are liberal democracies or totalitarian regimes, to exempt themselves from the remits of international law. This means that a country facing criticism from the international community for its actions, like the Russian military in Syria, can merely exempt itself from the ICC’s jurisdiction and continue with impunity.
A country that withdraws from the ICC commits an injustice. Not only does it make it harder to prosecute serious, international criminals, it also denies justice to the countless number of victims from war and genocide. Had it not been for the ICC, the Congolese Senator and 2006 presidential candidate, Jean-Pierre Bemba could have continued in senior level politics in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) without answering accusations of war crimes committed in 2003.
However, the existence and authority of the ICC meant Bemba, who ran on the racially charged slogan ‘One Hundred per cent Congolese’ was arrested, brought to trial and imprisoned for eighteen years.
Through its intervention, the ICC has proved itself as an organisation with the ability to bring justice to areas of serious deprivation. With the rights and freedoms of individuals being fundamentally brought into question, an international court is needed now more than ever to bring those who commit crimes to trial. Countries that withdraw not only infringe on the rights of their citizens, they also commit an injustice.
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