Aletho News


Do We Really Need an International Criminal Court?

A Pretext for War

By DIANA JOHNSTONE | CounterPunch | May 7, 2011

Year after year, people in the Arab countries are helpless spectators to the ongoing destruction of Iraq and Palestine by the United States and Israel. They see families wiped out by bombs in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. They see Arabs tortured and humiliated in Abu Ghraib and in Guantanamo. They see Israel regularly carrying out “targeted” assassinations in the Occupied Territories (splashing death around the target) while extending its illegal settlement of land belonging to Palestinians. Probably no people have greater cause to yearn for an equitable system of international justice. But where are they to look for it?

Well, what about the International Criminal Court (ICC)? The ICC is supposed to punish perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It has been in operation since July 2002, but seldom gets as much attention as it received during a symposium in mid-January at the Academy of Graduate Studies in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Underlying the two-day discussion on the “ambition, reality and future prospects” of the ICC was the question: is the ICC a first baby step toward international justice? Or is it just another element of Western “soft power”, imposed on small countries?

Although Libyan leader Moammer Gadhafi has expressed the second view, on balance most of the legal experts and academics — from Libya and other Arab countries, but also from Europe, China and South America — tended to lean toward the first view. Although nobody denied the evident shortcomings of the ICC, lawyers and jurists generally see it as “better than nothing” and point out that democratic legal systems have evolved from institutionalized power relations toward greater justice.


Meanwhile, a new war front was opening up. Urged on by the United States, Ethiopia invaded Somalia to restore disorder. U.S. war planes bombed fleeing members of the Islamic Courts Council that only recently managed to end the clan fighting that had ravaged Mogadishu for some fifteen years. The newly installed, U.S.-backed president, Abdulli Yusuf Ahmed, 73, announced that there would be “no talks” with the defeated Islamists, who were to be wiped out as they fled.

Now it so happens that among the war crimes listed in the Statute of Rome that governs the ICC is this one (Article 8.2.b.xii): “Declaring that no quarter will be given”. This is exactly what the Ethiopian-U.S.-backed conquerors were doing. But there was no chance that the ICC would deal with this latest outburst of international criminal behavior.

Indeed, after four and a half years of existence, the ICC has taken just one suspect into its custody: Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, head of a rebel militia in the impenetrable Ituri forest in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (ex-Zaïre). He is held under Article 8 (war crimes), section 2.e.vii on charges of recruiting children under the age of 15 to fight in his militia.

This is certainly bad behavior, but considering all that is going on in the world today, it hardly seems to rank among “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole” (Article 5, defining the crimes within jurisdiction of the court). A French judge working as an investigator in the ICC Prosecutor’s office, Bernard Lavigne, acknowledged that since it is clearly unable to deal with all the crimes in the world, the Court is necessarily selective. He defended the selection of this lone suspect by the need to start off with an air-tight case that the Prosecution was sure to win.

Therein, however, lies one of the ICC’s more subtle and insidious vices. Although the Statute formally upholds the “presumption of innocence”, all the details point to a Court whose job is not meant to sort out the innocent from the guilty, but to punish the (presumed) guilty. Politically, the creation of the ICC responds to demands of various NGOs, given great resonance by Bosnia and especially Rwanda, to “end impunity” and to comfort victims. The underlying political assumption is that both the criminals and the victims can be easily identified prior to trial — the trial being more a demonstration of the concern of the international community for justice than the search for a justice, and a truth, that may be elusive or seriously contested.

Like the ad hoc tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the ICC, despite its title, is not essentially set up to deal with international conflicts, but rather to administer “international” justice to internal conflicts, in countries too weak to resist its authority.

The total impotence of the ICC to deal with the most dangerous crimes truly “of concern to the international community as a whole”, those that outrage public opinion not only in the West but in all parts of the world, those that seriously threaten world peace, is most strikingly due to:

— the fact that the crime of aggression is not covered;

— the fact that the United States and its citizens are immune to prosecution, first of all because the United States has not ratified the ICC Statute, and secondly, because the United States has used its unprecedented economic and political clout to pressure countries into signing Bilateral Immunity Agreements (BIAs) that exempt Americans from prosecution. One hundred and two countries have signed BIAs with the United States.

Aggression exempted

Article 5 of the Rome Statute limits the jurisdiction of the Court to:

(a) The crime of genocide;

(b) Crimes against humanity;

(c) War crimes;

(d) The crime of aggression.

However, it goes on to specify that the Court “shall exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression once a provision is adopted […] defining the crime and setting out the conditions under which the Court shall exercise jurisdiction with respect to this crime.” In short, the crime of aggression is for the time being exempted from the Court’s jurisdiction.

The formal reason is that aggression is “not defined”. This is a specious argument since aggression has been quite clearly defined by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3314 in 1974,

which declared that: “Aggression is the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State”, and listed seven specific examples including:

— The invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another State, or any military occupation, however temporary, resulting from such invasion or attack, or any annexation by the use of force of the territory of another State or part thereof;

— Bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State or the use of any weapons by a State against the :territory of another State;

— The blockade of the ports or coasts of a State by the armed forces of another State…

The resolution also stated that: “No consideration of whatever nature, whether political, economic, military or otherwise, may serve as a justification for aggression.”

The real reason that aggression remains outside the jurisdiction of the ICC is that the United States, which played a strong role in elaborating the Statute, before refusing to ratify it, was adamantly opposed to its inclusion. It is not hard to see why.

This went against the nearly unanimous opinion of most of the world, which recalls that the Nuremberg Tribunal condemned Nazi leaders above all for the crime of aggression, as the “supreme international crime” which “contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”.

It may be noted that instances of “aggression”, which are clearly factual, are much easier to identify than instances of “genocide”, whose definition relies on assumptions of intention.

Defenders of the ICC stress that “aggression” may be defined, and thus come under the active jurisdiction of the Court, at the Review Conference which should be held in 2009 to consider amendments. Even so, an amendment comes into force only one year after ratification by seven eighths of State Parties to the Statute, and applies only to State Parties (which so far notoriously do not include the United States). And should the United States turn around and choose to ratify the Statute, it may still declare that for a period of seven years it does not accept the jurisdiction of the Court for its nationals (Article 124). All this means that the earliest conceivable (but highly improbable) date when U.S. crimes, including aggression, might be brought under ICC jurisdiction would be 2017. Even then, there is scarcely any possibility that an American citizen, or any person acting on behalf of the United States, would end up in the dock at the ICC.

For one thing, the ICC must turn over jurisdiction to any State which proves “willing and able” to try the case in its own courts.

Moreover, Article 16 allows the Security Council to suspend any ICC investigation or prosecution for a period of 12 months. The suspension can be renewed indefinitely. These days, the Security Council is generally viewed throughout the world as an instrument of U.S. policy.

The BIAs would still apply.

And incidentally, employing poison gases counts as a war crime, but not the use of nuclear weapons.

In short, the ICC is established according to double standards to deal with small fry.

A court for “failed states”

Indeed, it is hard to see how the ICC can deal with any but extremely weak or “failed” States. According to Article 17, a case is not admissible unless the State concerned is genuinely “unwilling or unable” to investigate and prosecute it. The Court itself can determine whether the State concerned is “unwilling or unable”.

At this point, the scene grows very murky. The Democratic Republic of Congo cooperated in turning over the case of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo to the ICC because he was a rebel against the State, and that troubled State has reason to want to be in the good graces of the ICC. But what if a State refuses, or shows itself “unwilling or unable” to pursue a case? What then? The ICC has no police force of its own. Will it then call on the Security Council to authorize arrest — meaning military action on the territory of the “unwilling” State?

The preamble to the Rome Statute emphasizes that “nothing in this Statute shall be taken as authorizing any State Party to intervene in an armed conflict or in the internal affairs of any State”. But this seems to be contradicted by the provisions of the Statute itself in regard to “unwilling” States.

Rather than a Court to keep the peace, the ICC could turn out to be — contrary to the wishes of its sincere supporters — an instrument to provide pretexts for war.

“If you can’t beat them, join them.”

It appeared from the Tripoli symposium that Arab intellectuals have an ambivalent attitude toward the ICC. On the one hand, many fear that the ICC can be instrumentalized to serve what they see as the long term U.S.-Israeli policy of breaking up Arab States and fragmenting the Middle East along ethnic or religious lines, as a way of “divide and rule”. In such a strategy, ethnic conflicts over territory and resources can be depicted by Western media and NGOs as one-sided cases of “genocide” requiring urgent international intervention. The trial run was Yugoslavia, and Iraq is the prime example.

Jurists themselves, professionally attached to the construction of a new legal institution, may be oblivious to strategic aspects. But the very emphasis on applying criminal law to political conflicts tends to reinforce the Manichean view (typical of the Bush administration and of Israel) that the world’s troubles are due to “bad guys”, “terrorists”, criminals that must be rooted out and punished. This precludes analysis of underlying causes of conflicts.

Like other Arab States, except for Jordan (and two formerly French territories, Djibouti and the Comoro Islands), Sudan is not a Party to the Rome Statute and thus does not fall under ICC jurisdiction. This fact has not prevented the mounting campaign for international intervention to stop what is described as “genocide” in Darfur. Some observers on the ground contend that this campaign is characterized by a limitless inflation of the number of casualties, to upgrade massacres to the status of “genocide”. Whatever the reality, the call for “intervention”, implying military intervention, is not accompanied by any clear explanation of how this would solve the underlying problems of religious identity and claim to scarce resources that have caused the crisis in Darfur. The well-financed and (largely) well-intentioned campaign to “save Darfur” actually tends to eclipse any effort to find genuine political and economic solutions by way of negotiation carried out by parties familiar with the history and culture of the region.

As can be seen in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the armed “rescue” of a country or region tends to be followed by a sharp drop in interest, and above all of the economic and practical aid promised at the outset.

In Tripoli, some argued that Sudan would be better placed to defend itself from impending military intervention if it were Party to the ICC. As a Belgian lawyer put it, for small countries the problem is to “avoid being entrapped”, and for this purpose it is better to join the ICC than to stay out of it.

Many Arab and Third World intellectuals are tired of standing on the sidelines and “complaining”. Joining the ICC might be a way to “join the world” and improve their own countries. This viewpoint seems particularly frequent among women lawyers and human rights NGOs.

But as one participant put it, “Inside or outside; the small countries are on the sidelines”.

The view from Tripoli

To conclude with a subjective note, from the peaceful atmosphere of Tripoli the rabid Bushist-Blairist fantasies about the deadly threat from “Islamo-fascism” seem particularly grotesque. The semi-socialist regime installed 37 years ago by Colonel Moammer Kadhafi has widely redistributed oil revenues, educating the population and creating a large middle class thanks to a service sector (largely bureaucratic) that employs some 80 per cent of the population. This makes it a singularly tranquil society — some bureaucrats may be superfluous, but they are not homeless, begging or thieving. Colonel Kadhafi is eccentric, sleeping in tents instead of palaces, but it is hard to avoid the feeling that he has been demonized not for his faults but for his support to Arab unity (which failed), to the Palestinians and to other liberation causes — which was natural for a country like Libya that had been the victim not so very long ago of a ruthless colonization by Mussolini’s forces, which subjected the local population to summary executions, mass deportations and concentration camps. Looking around, one may conclude that Kadhafi’s “soft” dictatorship could well be the best transitional modernizing regime that exists in the Arab world.

In any case, the ICC symposium followed its own ambivalent course without interference from the government. The overall impression was of a great thirst for peace, development and justice — all under threat from the fanatic Western “war on terror”. Islamic extremism is a problem to be dealt with in a growing number of Arab countries (not Libya, apparently, where the devout but moderate Muslim practice seems to preempt the extremists), but which is clearly aggravated by U.S. aggression and Israeli persecution of the Palestinians.

Justice and globalization

I give the last word to excerpts from the contribution of a retired Libyan gentleman who has held high positions in the past, but now prefers to remain anonymous:

“The dominant system is oriented towards an international business law considered as the supreme reference overhanging all national law and of course international public and private law. The WTO has defined in this context an arsenal of principles and procedures all the way to and including a juridical system based on the negation of the elementary principles of separation of powers that characterize democracy.

“This is totally unacceptable. We need exactly the opposite. We need a business law that is respectful of the rights of nations, people and labor, and respectful of the environment, rights of communities, women, while ensuring the conditions for further progress of democratization of societies.

“We have to advocate an International Law of the Peoples, which should combine:

“– The respect of national sovereignty, allowing people to choose their future according to their wishes.

“– The respect of Human Rights, not only political rights but also social rights and the right to development and peace.

“No solution is reached through abolishing one of the two terms of the equation. We can neither abolish sovereignty nor can we abolish human rights.

“The principle of respect for the sovereignty of nations must be the cornerstone of international law. The fact that this principle is violated today with so much brutality by the democracies themselves constitutes an aggravating, rather than mitigating circumstance. […] The solemn adoption of the principle of national sovereignty in 1945 was logically accompanied by the prohibition of recourse to war. […] With the militarization of the globalization process, which is closely associated with the neo-liberal option and with its predilection for the supremacy of international business law, it has become more imperative than ever that priority be given to this reflection on people’s rights.”

Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions. She can be reached at

May 7, 2011 - Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes


  1. In everything the role of the media is paramount. What’s the good of having an international criminal court when this very article is pointing out the shortcomings of such a court and the incidence of control by the major western powers, to the extent that none of their war criminals is being brought before it?
    My suggestion would be that the ICC should have an active representative from each country, with elective power, sitting on its executive board, in order to demand that any individual from any country that is in breach of international law be either brought before it or tried in absentia. That is the only way that I can see it functioning impartially; given the failure of the fourth estate, to report accurately on the criminal doings of the leaders of their own respective countries.

    Comment by Clarence | May 7, 2011

  2. the court is a huge joke. I wrote it for a year, asking for prosecution of several Bush officials for war crimes and genocide, and finally the Ocampo judge finally, after a years worth of registered mail, answered that under Article 5 of the ROME ACCORD, the crimes of the Bush Administration did not apply.

    Didn’t apply?

    No, more like; “we’re too fucking lazy to get off our asses and begin to build the case against them” is more like it.

    with the plethora of evidence, regardless of whether the U.S. was a signatory of the accord or not..which it in fact was not, meant the court DID have jurisdiction and jurisprudence, and did nothing.

    my reply from Ocampo letter was featured in David Swanson’s AFTERDOWNINGSTREET blog, a couple years ago…so there’s proof that I at least took the time and expense to ping on them till they finally replied.

    but make no mistake, the International Criminal Court is a joke. IT clearly is bought and paid for by the Rothschilds and would never ever under any circumstances ever dream of initiating a criminal inquiry, let along a prosecution of war crimes nor genocide.

    much like the United Nations, these organizations are fundamentally like teats on boar hogs. quite useless and redundant.

    and expensive.

    Comment by WASTE OF TIME THE I.C.C. IS, AS IS THE U.N. | May 7, 2011

  3. “(b) Crimes against humanity;”

    So does that include withholding basic human rights from women, gays, religious minorities and atheists? If so, then I guess the ICC will spend the next 10.000 years trying the so-called Middle-Eastern “victims of America’s imperialism”…

    Portraying Gadaffi as a good guy is a crime on itself, Cheney and Bush are innocent schoolgirls compared to the butcher Gadaffi who forged his “tranquil society” through decades of fear and death and had fighter planes bomb unarmed protestors, meanwhile stealing billions from the Libyan people and stirring up bloody civil wars all over Africa.

    Comment by John | May 8, 2011

    • John,

      It’s interesting that you that you cite “fighter planes bombing unarmed protestors” Even though Russian military analysts have disclosed that their satellite surveillance shows no such activity and the Pentagon stated that they have no evidence that such activity occurred. What exactly leads you to persist in your belief?

      Likewise, who do you suppose is truly guilty of “stealing billions from the Libyan people”, the European imperialists or Gaddafi? Really.

      Comment by aletho | May 8, 2011

      • John drank the Koolaid or is a government shill who is here to legitimize the war mongering and the deceit, that’s all. there are other government shills that use common everyday ‘merkan’ names such as JEREMY and CRAIG out there too, also cheerleading the garbage the government propagandists are selling. seems that the government has dumped a shitload of cash in the laps of more Pentagon propaganda companies or perhaps is making the military do the dirty work itself. In any case, within the past two months the amount of GOVT or MOSSAD shilling going on in the blogosphere has skyrocketed. ‘John’ could be real, but the propaganda bent there seems like it’s pointed at demonizing yet one more set up CIA puppet who has been sold down the river for wanting to NATIONALIZE his oil industry there in Libya.

        translated: Cass Sunstein is getting nervous.

        sorry for the verbosity, Aletho. had to get this out there.


        • Keeping in mind that the unfolding events are bigger than just Libya and its oil industry (which only a few months ago signed major new deals with various European and American oil co.s).

          Comment by aletho | May 8, 2011

          • I’m sure you remember the age old, worn out and overused; “there will NEVER be peace in the MIDDLE EAST..” and “They should just kill each other off” crap that they wanted us to believe.

            The sole benefactor to Israeli hegemony with the U.S. as the strongarm or wielder of the stick, militarily, when Israel isn’t doing it by itself and getting away with it, is always the illegitimate entity known globally as ISRAEL. yes, this is bigger than just the desire to maybe nationalize his oil in deference to the deals he just signed again, but there is a resource war going on here too. The continent of Africa (per O’puppet’s AFRICOM) is now the target of the conquest scope of the Rothschilds. The know that they can only overreach so far in the Caspian Sea Basin area before they trigger a response by Russia or even China, who needs more energy than even she produces.

            in any case, the endless wars serve two purposes. they enrich ROTHSCHILDS bankers who bankroll them, and second, it keeps ISRAEL in charge of the Middle East. Though Khadaffi certainly caved in when the U.S. gave him the deal to lose his terror status if he played ball and took the donkey tail for LOCKERBIE which the CIA did to kill an investigation into drug trafficking, just like clockwork, uncle Moammar was at the end of his political service life, as far as CIA/MOSSAD were concerned. Plus, it created a nice opportunity to ‘shove democracy up the ass of Africa’ sideways, as well.

            what’s going down is this is Israel and her puppet, Merka’s way of trying to stymie a region wide repudiation of all the CIA and ISRAELI supporting puppets who kept the balance of power obscenely tilted in the favor of Rothschildslandia, aka ISRAEL.

            and that’s my summary. but it’s for Israel’s sake more than anyone, as are all of the wars and all of the destruction, and all of the money changer chicanery going on that is destroying the global economies.


            • Gaddafi’s outspoken solidarity with Palestine sets him apart from other North African rulers. Gaddafi exhibits more independence than what the global elites find acceptable.

              Oil and gas are abundant and can be had without wars (exporters must sell). The US is only too happy to export Alaskan oil to China. The oil market is truly global. Libya participates in the oil markets in much the same way as any other exporter.

              Comment by aletho | May 8, 2011

              • well, you’ve convinced me a long time ago bout the abiogenetic nature of the world’s petroleum supply and that there is no true shortage, but that’s not the crux of the problem as much as ‘fake’ supply and demand manipulation and shortages that are wholly created in board rooms more so than exist in the real world…so we agree on that…with a single modifying BUT: that is, that these wars for OIL are very good and plausible excuses now, because in the back of every citizen’s mind is the ‘doubt’ that oil and gas will be plentiful and hence, due to that ‘doubt’ they’re willing to sell their souls to the Military Industrial Complex and the Rothschilds war profiteers to get that oil at all costs, lest their car or their furnace suddenly go obsolete due to nothing to put in it.

                So that’s more the problem, much more so than the reality. Shortages of commodities are often truthfully created and often do not exist in the real world, but in the magic formula of maximum profit, ANY COMMODITY THAT IS IN SHORT SUPPLY FOR WHATEVER REASON, GETS THE TOP DOLLAR OR SHEKEL.

                tonight I was wondering why the money addicts are so hot in pursuit of garnering something that they now create out of thin air or print at breakneck speed anyway? doesn’t it seem to cut out a lot of the violence and the dying if suddenly these wealthy oligarchs just had printing presses in their basements and the legal ability as they probably do, to just create money in their accounts where none truly existed?

                so the conclusion I now draw is that the killing and the grief and the woe is not necessarily a byproduct of the greed, but perhaps the prime mover of it, because the FED has shown that money can be created out of nothingness in huge, TRILLION DOLLAR quantities. as this is clearly so, then it seems to follow that the wars and the murdering and the misery of MONEY CONQUEST is irrelevant, but these people seek POWER AND DOMINION OVER ALL LIVING THINGS more so than they seek financial wealth, which they can obviously create out of thin air, unlike us working assholes who have to go earn the shit they make out of nothing.

                so, these shortages are being put into play more to torment people, foment more wars that are wholly unjustly foisted on the global population as ‘necessary’ when they are not ever necessary, solely to exact a human toll in angst, pain and destruction.

                what we have is a planet infested with people who are sadists to their bone marrow. They don’t do this for wealth hoarding, they’re doing it because they love to fuck people in the ass and hear them scream in agony. Am I not correct in that assumption?

                Comment by THE REAL REASONS | May 9, 2011

                • They used to call it “keeping the ni___s down”.

                  Sick indeed.

                  Comment by aletho | May 9, 2011

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