The International Criminal Court, which is based in The Hague, announced that it will host a conference on Friday to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of its founding, promising to “reflect on how to meet expectations” that have always been high. The court is considered a successor to the “Nuremberg Trials”, which examined Nazi crimes after World War II, when the new international order after the war was looking for an ideal model of global justice. The tribunals dealing with the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the conflict in Sierra Leone laid the foundation for a permanent court in The Hague, and then the “Rome Statute” – which is the basis of the International Criminal Court – was signed in 1998, and entered into force On July 1, 2002.
However, criticism and controversies during the first two decades of the ICC’s existence tarnished its reputation. A poor record of five convictions, in addition to accusations of focusing solely on Africa, tarnished the court’s image. Since then, it has only issued 5 convictions, all of them against African rebels, and none of them are heads of government. It acquitted former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, as well as former Democratic Republic of Congo Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, on appeal, and charges against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta were dropped. The refusal of major world powers such as the United States, Russia and China to join the court has also hampered it.
But as the world’s only permanent court that hears serious charges such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, it remains a last resort for many countries. The court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, argued that the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February made the international community aware of the importance of the rule of law. “If we don’t abide by the law today,” Khan told AFP. I think there will be very little hope tomorrow.”
“When the legacy of the International Criminal Court is considered in light of its lofty aims, the results are negligible,” said Theis Buckingt of the NIOD Institute for the Studies of War, Holocaust, and Genocide. Many countries stayed away from the court, while former US President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on them against the background of its investigation in Afghanistan, and Russia tried to send a spy to it.
Victoria Kerr of the Asser Institute of International and European Law saw the criticism as “correct”, but the ICC also made a “significant contribution”. “The International Criminal Court is not a panacea, and its effectiveness should not be measured on the basis of its principles alone,” she told AFP. New investigations have opened in recent years into some of the world’s most intense conflicts, including those between Israel and the Palestinians, Afghanistan, Burma and the Philippines.
Khan said when he took office in 2021 that he wanted to “reform” the ICC’s record. But his decision not to investigate American crimes in Afghanistan “revealed that the court continues to bow to the strongest,” Buckingett said. The International Criminal Court, which has long been underfunded and staffed, has received Western support since the invasion of Ukraine, notably with the help of dozens of foreign investigators. This investigation gives her a chance to prove her abilities. “The main challenge is to bring high-level perpetrators to court,” Kerr said, one of the main difficulties the ICC has faced over two decades.