Global Ethics Corner: The ICC Turns 10: Is International Justice Both Just and Effective?

Jun 22, 2012

The International Criminal Court turns 10 in July after a tumultuous first decade. With only a handful of rulings handed down, critics say the ICC is not efficient and beholden to Western ideals. Is it possible for international justice to be fair and effective?

On July 1st, the International Criminal Court will celebrate its first decade. It's been a tumultuous 10 years. Called ICC for short, the court was envisioned as the world's first permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and aggression.

But the ICC has become a symbol of the best and worst that international justice has to offer. Tensions between the court's supporters and critics run so high, that a true debate over the pros and cons of international justice often gets lost.

Experts across the spectrum find the ICC's first 10 years disappointing. Despite issuing some 20 arrest warrants, the ICC has made just a handful of rulings. Each trial cost tens of millions of dollars. That makes the ICC one of the least efficient prosecutorial systems ever.

While millions are poured into the ICC, critics point out that domestic justice systems are crumbling in many post-conflict countries. That money might be better spent by strengthening domestic courts—and not just because this would be cheaper. Critics complain that the ICC's one-size-fits-all approach often doesn't meet domestic conceptions of justice. Because international law is based on Western ideals, many victims don't believe international verdicts are just.

ICC advocates see things differently. They say many local judiciaries either won't or can't hold objective war crimes trials. That means the ICC is the only recourse for many victims. Advocates also believe that the ICC will eventually deter war criminals and genocide. Though they acknowledge the Court's limitations, they say abolishing the Court would threaten justice worldwide.

What do you think? Is international justice just? And is it effective?

By Marlene Spoerri

For more information see

Adam M. Smith, (2009), After Genocide: Bringing the Devil to Justice, (New York: Prometheus Books).

Jon Silverman, "Ten years, $900m, one verdict: Does the ICC cost too much?," BBC News, March 14, 2012

Photo Credits in Order of Appearance:
Vincent van Zeijst
Frank Wolf
de:Benutzer:Afrank99
Christian Haugen [also for image 10]
ComSec
Jefseghers
CxOxS
el_floz
Jan Seifert
Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
Ekenitr
Dan4th

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