The ICC’s first sentence coincided with its anniversary. The court opened its doors 10 years ago last month, empowered by treaty to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and eventually crimes of aggression. It was a great leap forward for the notion of universal justice: that some crimes are so heinous that their outrageousness transcends borders, language and culture. It’s the idea that some crimes are so unspeakably evil that their punishment must shatter the three-century-old bedrock of international relations: that only a nation has supreme authority over the crimes of its citizens.
This is what the nations that negotiated the Rome Treaty establishing the ICC agreed to. Today, 121 of the world’s 194 countries are signatories.
What is more noteworthy is what the court has not done and what it cannot do. And may never do.
For all its noble intentions, the ICC is a political creature, the Rome Treaty is the product of intense negotiation and compromise. First and foremost, the court and its legacy are closely tied to the politics of the preeminent organization charged with safeguarding international peace and security: the United Nations Security Council.
Three of its five veto-wielding members — the United States, Russia, and China — have refused to join the court, yet the Rome Treaty gives the Security Council powerful authority over the court’s decisions whether to investigate a criminal suspect or not.