International Criminal Court in crisis

The list of those withdrawing from the International Criminal Court in The Hague continues to grow. Following in the footsteps of several African states Russia also pulled out of the court on Wednesday, accusing it of "failing to become a genuinely independent organ". What is behind the series of withdrawals?

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Die Welt (DE) /

Collective egoism making a comeback

National egoism is on the rise and seriously damaging international law, Die Welt posits:

“The loss of members at the International Criminal Court fits in seamlessly with the worrying erosion of international institutions and agreements. The world is out of joint politically, as are the global and regional legal systems. … The United Nations has become merely a plaything of the powerful. The Security Council is not fulfilling the mandate given to it by all the member states of preserving world peace, but is being abused as a platform for national power politics. At a time when global challenges like terrorism and migration defy national borders, the exercise of self-restraint for the benefit of others is being set aside and collective egoism is making a comeback. International law as a whole is in crisis.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Not only despots are to blame

The US is also partly to blame for the fact that one country after another is turning its back on the ICC, Der Standard argues:

“Kenya and Gambia are on the way out, and the Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has also described the court as 'useless'. All these states have one thing in common: their governments' fear of being targeted by the judges. Kenya's presidential duo was under investigation until recently. Duterte's anti-drug war was criticised, as was Russia's conduct in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria. But to put all the international court's problems down to the fears of those who may find themselves accused is to oversimplify the situation. Supporters of the ICC in the US have never brought themselves to expose their own soldiers to the ICC's justice. The ideals that once led to the establishment of the ICC are fading. This is also the fault of those who only wanted it to apply for others when they had the chance to make sure it applied for everyone.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Give the court more time to prove its worth

Despite all the justified criticism the international community should stand by the International Criminal Court, NRC Handelsblad urges:

“Even the most generous observer will ascertain that the court hasn't achieved any significant results yet. … But it is obvious that the ICC has a function, namely calling to account local rulers who commit crimes. Regardless of whether the issue at hand is Flight MH17, the use of poison gas in Syria, the starvation of the people of North Korea, people always ask: 'Is this not a case for the ICC?' … Perhaps this is the beginning of a difficult period for the court. But we must not give up on this still young instrument of international criminal law - no matter how imperfect it is. The world must handle the ICC carefully.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Sudden change of heart in Africa

The recent allegations against the Hague tribunal run counter to previous conduct on the part of African nations, Les Echos complains:

“The accusations are certainly understandable, because eight of the nine countries implicated in proceedings at the International Criminal Court are African. Nonetheless they are misplaced, as in almost every case - such as that concerning Rwanda after the horrors of the 1994 genocide - it was the government itself that invoked the authority of the international tribunal. The one exception is Kenya. The charges against the Kenyan president [Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta] and his vice-presidents over acts of violence in the wake of elections were pressed by the Court itself. No doubt the international dispensation of justice is imperfect, but it deserves to be defended. ... The goal is to defend victims and not let the powerful get off scot free, whether they're from Africa or elsewhere.”

The Economist (GB) /

South Africa's withdrawal a grave mistake

The decision by the South African government to quit the International Criminal Court is positive reinforcement for dictatorial leaders, The Economist rails:

“It is inconceivable that Nelson Mandela would have done such a thing. Virtually all right-thinking liberals and lawyers in his country have condemned the move. In the name of standing up against the supposed anti-African bias of the court, South Africa has aligned itself with the autocrats of the continent and given succour to those who have committed appalling human-rights abuses. ... It would be tragic if South Africa set in motion a domino effect that prompted ever more African countries to leave the court. A wave of withdrawals would reverse the progress towards greater rule of law across the continent and beyond.”