On July 17, International Criminal Court advocates will celebrate International Criminal Court Day.

It marks the anniversary of the Rome Statute on July 17, 1998, which brought the ICC into existence. The court protects people from human rights abuses like genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression. Any diplomat, military leaders or military personnel who commit any of these crimes can be prosecuted.

President Bill Clinton participated in negotiations for the ICC. His administration wanted the U.N. Security Council to screen all cases. A screening process by the Security Council, which the United States is a member of, would give the United States the ability to veto any dockets it opposed. When other countries refused this idea, our country went on the defensive. Clinton signed the statute but didn’t submit it to the Senate. President George W. Bush adopted a very active opposition. Barack Obama’s administration made greater efforts to engage with the court. It participated with the court’s governing bodies and it provided support for the court’s ongoing prosecutions. His administration, however, made no real effort to enter the court.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, passed away last month. In his book on his time as national security adviser, “Of Power and Principle,” he stated that a commitment to human rights would demonstrate the values of a democratic republic to people in developing nations and make the United States more appealing than our adversary at the time, Soviet Russia. The national security adviser made three basic propositions in a speech in 1978 at the 13th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The first is that human rights is the genuine, historical inevitability of our times,” he said. “The second is that human rights is a central facet in America’s relevance to this changing world. And the third is that there has been progress in the effort to enhance the human condition insofar as human rights are concerned.”

Joining the ICC would cement our commitment to human rights and encourage others to join this revolutionary idea. International relations theorist Hedley Bull talked about individual states who share a set of values forming a “society of states” to make and enforce international law and bring about a more lawful and less lethal world.

Many in the United States object to joining the ICC due to possible politically motivated prosecution of American military personnel and diplomats. Our country, because it is a superpower, has military and diplomatic personnel stationed all across the globe.

The fears surrounding this court are unfounded. The ICC has jurisdiction over only the most serious crimes, investigations are launched cautiously, and not all investigations result in indictments. With its limited resources and mandate, the ICC cannot and does not bring frivolous lawsuits, which discounts the chances of politically motivated investigations and indictments.

Opponents of the ICC frequently cite the granting of an overseas court jurisdiction over Americans and limiting sovereignty. Based on the court’s jurisdiction, this fear has no basis in reality. The ICC’s jurisdiction over a case is subject to a complementarity role, which means the ICC can only investigate a situation if national courts are half investigating or actively refusing to investigate the matter. The healthy and well-developed U.S. military justice system should thus preclude ICC investigation of U.S. actions.

If human rights are the wave of the future, as Brzezinski suggested, then supporting a legal framework for their enforcement would help us in our mission to create a world governed by law and not force. In a world with more respect for human rights and democratic norms, our country could spend less on defense and refocus on rebuilding internally with quality infrastructure, an improved health care and retirement system, improved research and development, an expanded earned-income tax credit, and universal vacation and family leave benefits.


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