Let us distinguish between the broad currents in international legal thought – what I would call international law “proceduralists” versus “imperialists.” International law has traditionally been procedural–what counts is following the rules. If the rules enjoy respect, international law is considered a success. From this perspective, it would not matter whether the thirty-four African members of the Court quit or stay in. The Rome Statute provides rules for both entry and withdrawal, and thus doing the latter is value-neutral.
Yet, the ICC is the product of a different intellectual current. More specifically, it is a product of international law imperialism. This approach wants to increase the scope, power and prestige of international law and its institutions. It promotes the creation of more treaties, universal membership for treaties, and more international legal bodies exercising powers that previously would have been exercised by sovereign authorities, irrespective of whether the rules and institutions might not work well at first. Unlike proceduralists, imperialists think international law is on the whole a good in itself, capable of making the world a better place. Supporters of this current therefore proudly count the number of member states in the ICC—122 member states as of now—to demonstrate the global acceptance of the institution.
This number may still be cited after Addis Ababa and could lead some to consider the outcome of the summit a success for international law. Thus, Addis Ababa shows where the proceduralist and imperialist visions diverge. Imperialists may be relieved by the outcome of the summit, but proceduralists may consider it a defeat.
The ICC’s membership roll represents an increasingly hollow statistic. For one, the Great Powers
Tag Archives | Africa
[This is en excerpt from an op-ed/short essay I’ve written on the AU action, which is available for publication…]
African Union leaders met in an extraordinary summit in Adas Ababa last week to discuss their strained relations with the International Criminal Court (ICC), as it begins trying its first sitting head of state, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya. Supporters of the Court breathed a sigh of relief when the event ended, as I had predicted, without a much-anticipated African countries quitting the ICC en masse in protest of its Africa-focussed docket.
However, while less dramatic than a group defection from the ICC, the policies adopted by the special synod represent perhaps as profound a repudiation of The Hague-based Court. The African action exposes the weaknesses of the Court while further politicizing it.
The AU proclaimed that “no charges shall be commenced or continued before any international court… against any serving Head of State.” Their demand for immunity for leaders has one problem: it directly contradicts the Rome Statute, the treaty the serves as the ICC’s charter. Art. 27 provides a defendant’s leadership position is entirely “irrelevant,” and it notes this applies to heads of state “in particular.” Indeed, “ending impunity” for national leaders is the maxim of the Court. The AU leaders’ demand is not absurd – as they note, customary international law has traditionally provided head-of-state immunity. But the ICC is supposed to represent progress beyond such parochial and self-serving norms.
In short, the AU has endorsed violating the Court’s constitution while not quitting it. For the integrity of international law, this might be worse. When the United States quit the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, and when President Bush “unsigned” the Rome Statute, diplomats and international lawyers pointed out that this proves how seriously [...]