Ethics & International Affairs Volume 20.1 (Spring 2006): Articles: Compromising Justice: Why the Bush Administration and the NGOs Are Both Wrong about the ICC [Abstract]

Apr 24, 2006

The critics of the ICC in the Bush administration and its supporters within the human rights community have one thing in common: they assume that the ICC can evolve into a powerful institution independent of states, either to constrain American power or to act on a duty to prosecute to end impunity for perpetrators. Both overestimate the ability of the court to pursue a legalism divorced from power realities. The former attribute to the court powers it is unlikely to exercise, particularly if the United States remains outside the treaty. This is due, in part, to the safeguards within the Rome Statute, but more importantly, to the court's dependence on sovereign cooperation, which will lead it to place a high premium on cultivating the good will of the most powerful states. The latter overestimate the degree to which courts by themselves can deter atrocities. The ICC's effectiveness in any particular case will therefore be dependent on the political consensus of those actors capable of wielding power in that area. They also underestimate the need to compromise justice—at least, prosecutorial justice—in cases in which bargaining and compromise are the central means of facilitating transitions from armed conflict or dictatorship, and in cases in which the strength of the perpetrators and the limits of one's power would make legal proceedings either futile or counterproductive to other interests and values. Hence, decisions to prosecute must first be subjected to a test of political prudence, and then take place according to due process and the rule of law.

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