Fri | Oct 19, 2018

Editorial | Join ICC, reject USA stance on court

Published:Wednesday | September 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Eighteen years ago, Jamaica signed the Rome Statute to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC). That court has been in operation since 2002. Jamaica, however, is not a member. It hasn't ratified the treaty. Eleven of Jamaica's Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners have.

The last time a senior government official addressed the issue was in 2015. Mark Golding, the then justice minister, claimed that legislation was being fast-tracked to accede to the ICC. In the two and a half years since its return to Government, the Jamaica Labour Party has been silent on the matter. But by urgently acceding to the court, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has an opportunity to make an important, yet symbolic declaration of Jamaica's stance against impunity, its commitment to human rights, and civilised behaviour, and that no one, including countries' leaders, is above the law. These are principles often enunciated by Mr Holness and his predecessors.

The ICC, based on the agreement between the 123 state parties that have thus far acceded to the court, claims the right to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. But it only insists upon that jurisdiction in circumstances where national courts are either unwilling or unable to prosecute such crimes, or if cases are referred to it by the UN Security Council.

 

International Justice

 

Jamaica and the Caribbean have had not only an intellectual commitment, but practical application of the doctrine that some crimes are so abhorrent that they transcend national boundaries and may command international justice. Indeed, Jamaica's Patrick Robinson, who now sits on the International Court of Justice, which arbitrates disputes between states, was formerly the president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that heard cases of crimes during the Balkan wars. He presided over the war-crime trial of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Dennis Byron, the recently retired president of the Caribbean Court of Justice, was before that head of the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda. Further, the ICC, in its current form, substantially owes its existence to the efforts of A.N.R. Robinson, who revived the idea in a 1989 speech at the United Nations.

The concept of such a court and the prosecution of people for genocide and similar crimes, though, didn't originate with Mr Robinson. A criminal court was broached after World War I and the Americans led the prosecutions at Nuremberg, after the Second World War, of Nazi war criminals. America's position on the ICC, and a speech in Washington this week by President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, are, therefore, significant.

 

Dismantling the Court

 

Like Jamaica, the US hasn't ratified the Rome Statute. It has essentially asserted its exceptionalism, thus placing itself above the jurisdiction of such court, although it has supported the ICC in cases against other country's nationals and when it was in Washington's interest so to do. Mr Bolton, one of the architects of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq and a man who appears never to have seen a war he doesn't like, is now pursuing an agenda to dismantle the court. His cudgel is the ICC's exploratory investigation of potential war crimes by America's troops in Afghanistan.

"The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," Mr Bolton said. Its illegitimacy, apparently, is the 123 state parties to the ICC, including most of America's closest European allies.

Among Mr Bolton's threats, if the ICC goes ahead with its investigations, is the banning of its judges from the United States, freezing their assets in the country, and prosecuting them in US courts. Donald Trump's America is, hereby, aligning itself with the global authoritarians who abhor the concept of international justice and global accountability.

Most democracies don't agree. Nor should Jamaica. In the past, Jamaica may have been afraid to accede to the ICC for fear of American sanctions of it turning over US nationals to the court. It is likely to find support if it has the courage to do the right thing.