Will the new crimes against humanity treaty protect women and LGBTI persons?

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               Photo courtesy of Groundswell.

If you haven’t heard about the new treaty on crimes against humanity that the United Nations has in the works, you’re not alone. Most haven’t.

What you should know is if this treaty goes forward for adoption in its current draft form, only some—not all—people will be protected from crimes against humanity like massacres, rape, torture and persecution. This is because the treaty adopts an outdated definition of gender that some states will inevitably use to shirk their responsibility for addressing gender-based crimes.

We need this treaty, first of all, because it could help bring such atrocities to light and perpetrators to justice. The only permanent court in existence for prosecuting such crimes, the International Criminal Court (ICC), doesn’t have a mechanism for interstate cooperation, and few states have crimes against humanity incorporated into their domestic legislation.

The problem is that the draft treaty adopts the definition of gender from the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, stating: “it is understood that the term ‘gender’ refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society.” On its own, the definition does not make clear who is protected. While it’s understood to be inclusive of all gendered crimes that meet the threshold of persecution, there has never been a successful prosecution at the ICC. Not surprisingly, since the Rome Statute’s codification, such a definition has never been used again.

To understand how this definition of gender came about we have to go back about twenty years. During the 1990s in Rome, women’s rights advocates rallied for the term “gender” instead of “sex” to be listed alongside race, ethnicity, religion and the other the protected groups from persecution. A small, socially conservative opposition objected, fearing the term “gender” would more broadly affirm LGBTI rights as human rights. They also wanted to limit the scope of women’s rights.

Since Rome, two decades of international human rights law has solidified the definition of gender as a social construct across UN Agencies and human rights mechanisms. The term sex is left for biologists. However, while this “footnote” to the term gender is understood to be inclusive, there are states that would gladly use this opaque definition as an excuse to ignore conflict-related gender-based crimes.

So how does an outdated definition to a protected group get adopted into a new crimes against humanity draft treaty?

Bensouda Photo

             Photo courtesy of CUNY Law School

While oodles of rights and protections were taken into consideration during the dialogues on the draft treaty, no one thought to discuss gender. Perusing through the comments over the last four years of discussions and debates by states and experts partied to the drafting process, not one mentions the outdated definition that was cut and pasted into the draft. While issues concerning everything from the rights of witnesses and victims to the cooperation between states have been discussed in great detail, there’s no mention of women, gender, LGBTI people, or even sexual violence. 

At the beginning of the drafting process, a small handful of legal advocates pointed to the definition and called for the drafters to either not include it¾since no other ground of persecution required one¾or adopt a clearer definition as used by the UN. Valerie Oosterveld, an international criminal law professor who was a pivotal delegate at Rome, raised concerns about the problematic nature of adopting a definition into the CAH treaty that was drafted to be deliberately ambiguous (“constructive ambiguity” in diplomatic parlance) in order to resolve polarized positions during the Rome Statute negotiations. Considering she’s one of the foremost experts on the issue of gender under international criminal law, it’s astonishing her ideas were dismissed.

Part of the problem stemmed from the fear that the controversy surrounding the definition twenty years ago would resurface and tank the treaty if the debate on gender were reopened. Some states and drafters have expressed the need to get the treaty passed expeditiously and to keep the original language from Rome intact.

But does a new treaty that codifies an outdated definition of gender serve the interests of justice?

Fighting for recognition of gender-based violence is not new. Sexual violence crimes were not taken as seriously as other crimes in the early years of international criminal tribunals. Feminists had to struggle tirelessly to secure the recognition of rape as a form of torture in certain contexts.

In the 1990’s the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic of CUNY Law School, (known then as the International Women’s Human Rights Initiative Clinic) served as the secretariat for the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, a global coalition of women’s rights activists working to address gender gaps in the draft Rome Statute. Just as there was push-back against the term “gender”, there was also great opposition to recognizing sexual violence as a serious international crime.

A key component to their success was combining advocacy with legal strategy. Gender strategies in the tribunals grew from the notion that “women’s rights are human rights.” Today, advocates are calling for a “gender equal world.”

This is a pivotal moment in history to affirm our understanding of discrimination, including where gender-based oppression dictates narratives for sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. What we do now will affect people’s rights for generations to come.

It’s time for the international community to take a stand. A treaty meant to protect people against the worst atrocities imaginable by its nature should protect all of us.

 

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The mass killing of women activists in Latin America: making political violence visible

An important part of academic feminist work continues to be to make the gendered aspects of theoretical concepts and tools of ‘mainstream’ academic thought visible. Often, gaps, silences and deliberate omissions become evident only through the lens of empirical research and analysis.

In 2017, Latin America was described by the UN as the world’s most violent continent for women. The assassinations of women activists and community leaders have continued across the region in 2018. While the killing of Marielle Franco, a favela community leader, and the unraveling of government-private enterprise collusion in the 2016 killing of Berta Cáceres, an environmental activist in Honduras, have been portrayed as political murders by international media, there is substantial academic work to do with respect to theorizing the gendered aspects of these types of killings.

In their influential edited volume Violent Democracies in Latin America (2010) Arias and Goldstein argue that the ‘evolutionist’ democracy theory’s understanding of disorder as a failure of institutions fails to grasp Latin American politics in the context of proliferating violence. They offer the concept ‘violent pluralism’ as a prism for interrogating and understanding the co-existence of structural and personal, political and social violence and democracy in contemporary Latin America. Violent pluralism is defined as ‘states, social elites, and subalterns employing violence in the quest to establish or contest regimes of citizenship, justice, rights, and a democratic social order’. However, as a theory on violent democracies, the theory of violent pluralism is silent on the gendered realities of this violence as it plays out in Latin America. Considering the success of this concept, it is important that the concept has the capacity to help make visible how much of the political violence in the region takes the shape of violence against women involved in grassroots mobilization.

In this blog post, building on collaborative research with internally displaced (IDP) women’s organizations in Colombia between 2010–2014 but also reflecting wider developments in the region, I unpack this concept as a three-pronged relationship between political organizing and gendered violence. I suggest the need to conceptualize how gendered violence works as an obstacle to organizing; how political organizing is a response to gendered violence; and finally, how political organizing is a cause of further gender-based violence.

As a consequence of massive internal displacement from the late 1990s, and supported by the Colombian Constitutional Court’s progressive decisions, the Colombian feminist and peace movement (broadly conceived) and a significant international humanitarian response, a large number of IDP women’s organizations emerged from around 2004. Over the course of a 4-year research project, a joint Los Andes-PRIO research team led by myself and Julieta Lemaitre (S.J.D HLS 2007) examined how mobilization helped these organizations gain access to their constitutionally mandated rights as citizens of Colombia – first as IDP organizations, and later within the transitional justice frame. Very quickly, however, the project became focused on how these organizations navigated a highly precarious security context.

Gendered violence as an obstacle to organizing

Drawing on the findings of this project, I suggest that gendered violence can be an obstacle to organizing in a social field consisting of non-violent women’s organizations that overwhelmingly deploy peaceful tactics and strategies. By emphasising violent civil society actors, the violent pluralism framework risks erasing not only the efforts of non-violent actors, but also their vulnerability and the impact of violence. Gendered violence can deter or end mobilization because women are not able to take advantage of political opportunities or harness necessary resources. Fear of violence or actual violence can undermine the collective action frame.

In the deeply unequal Colombian context, physical and symbolic violence work together as a deterrent to women’s activism. Physical violence and state repression can undermine and destroy ongoing activism, for example, by very literal ‘leadership-decapitation’. The rising lethal violence against activists across Colombian civil society combine with a political economy of symbolic violence arising from the way messages, icons, or signs transmit messages of domination of or aggression against women. The impact of these threats depends on their nature, context and whether they are addressed to individuals or collective entities.

Political organizing as a response to gendered violence

Second, I call for a conceptualization of political organizing as a response to gendered violence. The many forms of political organizing undertaken by IDP women should be scrutinized in order to better understand how collective feminist political subjectivities are construed through gendered violence as a mobilizing factor. Such scrutiny can shed light on this form of violence-mediated political consciousness as a contribution to democracy

Here, I want to highlight the role of consciousness raising and credible documentation of threats. For grassroots organizations, a key element is the harnessing of a feminist consciousness among rank and file members. Many of the organizations we mapped came into being because IDP organizations commonly excluded women from leadership roles and were rife with discrimination and sexual harassment, providing an initial barrier to IDP women’s political activism. When activists harness and visibilize insecurity, threats and violence through multiple forms of documentation and registration, they do so in order to gain local, national and international credibility, but also as a mode of co-constituting a shared consciousness about the cause for and nature of their activism, and its place in the broader struggle for social justice.

Political organizing as a cause of further gender-based violence

Third, I argue that political organizing is a cause of further gender-based violence, but the connection between organizing and violence remains contested: political violence is often reframed as private and/or interpersonal. Being outspoken or even being organized can create risk. An important observation is that violence persists despite assuming a low profile or the activist’s own systematic efforts to obtain government protection – and suspicion of the government’s motives or the adequacy of protection mechanisms remains rife. Moreover, acts of violence against women grassroots activists also seem to set in motion specific sets of contestations between civil society and the state over the recognition of gendered violence as political – the recognition that the violence comes in response to the organizing, and that the violence itself is a deliberate, political act – and not as an act of ‘private’, domestic violence or as a result of criminal activities, typically drug or gang related.

There can and should be many theories on the gender of violent pluralism. My specific ambition in this blog post has been to point to an analytical path whereby the systematic violence against women activists in Latin America can be incorporated into discussions about violent pluralism. Opening up this analytical pathway will also contribute to making violent pluralism a more sophisticated theoretical concept.

 

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (Doctor of Juridical Sciences, S.J.D Harvard Law School 2008) is a Research Professor in Humanitarian Studies at PRIO, and a professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Oslo. Her current work focuses on displacement, gender and the technologization of humanitarian space. This post is based on the article Gendering violent pluralism: women’s political organising in Latin America” published in the special issue “Gendering (in)security” in  Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal in 2018. A previous version of this blog was posted  here at the LAPJ blog

 

International Law Weekend 2018

International Law Weekend, a prestigious annual international law conference co-sponsored by the American Branch of the International Law Association and the International Law Students’ Association, will take place from October 18-20, at Fordham Law School, and at the New York City Bar Association.  For a detailed conference program, please see here.  For information regarding registration, please see here.

African Court issues its first judgment on women’s rights

On 11 May 2018, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a landmark judgment in the case APDF and IHRDA versus the Republic of Mali. For the first time in its history, the Court found a violation of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. The Court held that Malian Family Code violates women’s rights as recognized under international law, and condemned the State of Mali to modify its legislation.

Two civil society organisations had lodged a complaint before the African Court in September 2016 alleging that the Malian Family code adopted in 2011 is not compatible with the State’s obligations under international law. The Court therefore proceeded to examine if the code was in conformity with human rights instruments Mali had ratified, and found that several provisions of this code are not.

The Malian Family Code permits marriage for girls from the age of 16-years. In specific circumstances, the minimum age for marriage for girls may be lowered to 15-years. Consent is not always a requirement for a marriage to be valid. The African Court found that the relevant provisions of the Family Code are blatant violations of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) under which the minimum age for marriage is 18 years for both women and men. The Maputo Protocol also provides that free and full consent in marriage must be protected by law. In matters of inheritance, Islamic law and customary practice is the applicable regime by default in Mali. This means that women only receive half of what men receive and children born out of wedlock receive inheritance only when their parents so decide. In relation to this issue, the African Court emphasized that women and natural children should be entitled to inheritance by law, and as such, the Family Code should not allow the application of rules contrary to this principle. The Court held that the relevant provisions of the Malian Family Code are discriminatory and perpetuate practices or traditions harmful towards women and children, in violation of the Maputo Protocol, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The political context in which the Malian Family Code was adopted, characterized by vigorous opposition by religious movements to a more progressive legislation, was at the heart of the arguments put forward by the State of Mali in its defence. But to the African Court, this was no good excuse for passing a law contradictory to its international obligations. It thus ordered Mali to modify its legislation as well as to take measures to inform, teach, educate and sensitize the population on the rights of women, and to report to the Court on the implementation of the judgement within a period of two years. Continue reading

Introducing Alice Banens

photo AliceIt is our great pleasure to introduce our new IntLawGrrls contributor Alice Banens!
Alice is a Legal Advisor at Amnesty International, working on international justice in Africa and based in Dakar, Senegal. She is a lawyer specialized in international human rights law and international criminal law.
She has previously worked with victims’ lawyers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia, and with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) particularly focusing on the African continent. In her last position at FIDH, she co-coordinated the organization’s work on the fight against impunity for crimes committed in the context of the conflict in Mali, based in Bamako.
Alice holds a Master in Human Rights Law from the Institute of High European Studies (Strasbourg) and a Bachelor in Law from the University of Toulouse, France.
Heartfelt welcome!

The international criminal justice project through the lense of Narrative Expressivism

In a recently published article in Criminology and Criminal Justice, I set out a framework through which we can address the stories and truths that the international criminal justice (ICJ) project produces about violent pasts, conflicts, perpetrators, victims, crimes, causes and consequences.

By the term ”the international criminal justice project”, as opposed to internatioanl criminal law institutions, I refer both to these institutions (the courts and tribunals, and the stories produced within by prosecutors, judges, counsels, defendants, experts, victims and so on) – but also to the epistemic communities surrounding these courts, enabling them, pushing for them, advocating fortheir existence, for different parties, campaigning for their creation or continued funding, doing research on their work – that is, everyone engaged with the ICJ project in some way or the other.

I call this framework narrative expressivism. Narrative expressivism is situated at the juncture of insights from the analytical and theoretical framework provided by narrative analysis; as well as the body of literature that caters to the quality of the historical record produced by international criminal trials; and as the name also implies, expressive theories of international criminal law.

From narrative theory, and particularly narrative criminology, narrative expressivism sees stories of the past as important for the future, appreciating that stories affect “the way we perceive the social and material worlds“ (Autesserre 2012: 206). And further, the way we perceive the world “orient how we act upon our environment.” That is, stories animate human life. The stories available to us affect our perceived maneuverability for action in given situations, whether or not the stories are true.

From the body of literature engaging an expressive argument for international criminal justice, comes the emphasis on courts as didactic, or educative – communicative – to the wider society.

In my article, which builds on a four-year case study on the ICTY as a site for explaining and managing collective violence – I ask what stories and understandings of international crimes the criminal justice framework allows for and what it means when knowledge from and for court proceedings is used to describe and understand a social phenomenon outside of it.

What I suggest we do, is to look at the ways in which criminal law conceptualizations of the past affect the ways in which we are able or willing to deal with collective violence as societies and communities on the one hand, and as individuals – either politicians or potentially ordinary fighters on the ground, maneuvering possibilities for action in the face of violent profusions.

In my own research in particular, I have focused on defendants and how they are re-presented, and how conflict-related sexual violence specifically, is constructed as a problem of law – what ideas and subjects are called into service for criminal law’s operation through court narratives, as well as in policy and advocacy actors’ framing of conflict-related sexual violence, in order to push criminal prosecutions

Narrative expressivism theorizes international criminal justice as an empirical field for knowledge construction and sees criminal justice as a potent source of information about past crimes – yet also, as a site that impacts on present and future societal understandings of mass violence, promoting a particular structuring of thought. That is, it theorizes the juridification of societal and political understandings of complex collective and social problems.

The whole process of campaigning for the establishing of courts and cases, of adjudicating guilt and innocence, of evaluating evidence, hearing, challenging and sorting stories, establishing facts – the process of ordering chaos through a legal model that streamlines causality, draws individuals out of collectives, and categorizes both them, acts, victims, and contexts – makes a less complex and more comprehensible narrative of what was, through means and under influence of what constitutes legally relevant arguments and according to the courts’ binary logics. Such legal understandings are appealing. As Tallgren (2002: 594) states, “[b]y focusing on individual responsibility, criminal law reduces the perspective of the phenomenon to make it easier for the eye … It reduces the complexity and scale of multiple responsibilities to a mere background.”

What law, and particularly judgments, construct is not an objective history of the past, but the events anew, formed by these constraints and possibilities of the legal framework

Narrative expressivism caters to this reduction, to the processes of inclusion and exclusion of different voices, and to the leveraging and silencing of some stories over others during proceedings and in the epistemic community surrounding ICJ institutions.

Importantly, this way of seeing ICJ, emphasizes all the expressive, or communicative, work courts do or facilitate. This includes all the narratives that the international criminal justice project produces about acts charged as international crimes – either from the inside of its institutions or from the outside by its proponents – whether the narratives morally condemn or deny mass violence, and, importantly, whether they strengthen or challenge the legitimacy and authority of international criminal justice institutions.

While courts through judgments produce normative evaluations of international crimes, leveraged through the authority of criminal law, international criminal courts also provide international, public platforms for protest – as evidenced by the defiant defendants ‘performances’ at the very final proceedings of the ICTY last year.

This way, the common expressive understanding of law changes significance from being primarily a normative theory or argument of purpose (legal expressivism) to a descriptive theory of its function as storyteller and narrative conveyor, weighting the explanations of problematic social phenomena and mass harm and the role of law that it produces (narrative expressivism).

With public proceedings and transcripts, and the access to its goldmine archives for research, the trial at international criminal law institutions becomes a public theatre of different and contesting ideas – a place to test and rename, pronounce and project, and also, establish history about mass harms. Herein is an acknowledgement that “not only is knowledge power, but power is knowledge too”, as Ayoob (2002: 29) has stated. Focusing on power in its discursive forms, involves attention to how specific sets of logics organize and produce knowledge.

Narrative expressivist approaches to international criminal justice would, thus, concern how law and ICJ communities, act as central contributors to “[t]he wider politics of representation.” At the very least, this necessitates attention to questions such as whose representations are these, who gains what from them, what social relations do they draw people into, what are their ideological and political effects, and what alternative representations are there?” (Fairclough, 2013: 549–550).

This take on ICJs influence on our understanding of collective and political violence may appear at first as at odds with recent, and oftentimes well-addressed, critique of the effectiveness and legitimacy of ICJ institutions and selectivity. However, there is a difference between what is understood as and expected from international criminal justice on the one hand, and the realitites that international criminal justice describes when handling crime, ie., the structuring of thought that the criminal law frame feed our understanding with – whether or not it succeeds with its prosecutions.

Commentary on John Bolton’s Speech Regarding New American Policy on the International Criminal Court

National Security Advisor, John Bolton, delivered remarks today on “Protecting American Constitutionalism and Sovereignty from International Threats.”  In his remarks, Bolton announced a new American policy vis-a-vis the International Criminal Court (ICC or Court).  According to Bolton, the ICC “has been ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous.”  While Bolton, and others in the Trump Administration, are certainly allowed to express their opinion and to craft new policies, it is important that such policies be based on accurate (and not alternative) facts.  The purpose of this post is to highlight some of the most egregious factual errors from Bolton’s remarks.  Any government policy based on inaccurate information and “advertised” through reliance on misleading and inaccurate claims is “ineffective, unaccountable… and outright dangerous.”  In addition, this post will criticize some of Bolton’s arguments as misguided and contrary to the United States’ interests.

Bolton argues in his speech that “[t]he ICC and its Prosecutor had been granted potentially enormous, essentially unaccountable powers, and alongside numerous other glaring and significant flaws, the International Criminal Court constituted an assault on the constitutional rights of the American People and the sovereignty of the United States.”  It is incorrect that the ICC and its Prosecutor have “enormous” or “unaccountable powers.”  The ICC’s jurisdiction is limited temporally as well as rationae materiae (the court can only exercise jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – and in very limited instances, aggression); the court is also constrained by the application of principles of gravity and complementarity.  Moreover, the Assembly of States Parties is an important accountability mechanism over the court – as many readers know, judges can be removed by a two-thirds vote of states parties to the Rome Statute, and a prosecutor can be removed by a majority vote of states parties. Thus, to claim that the ICC somehow wields Harry Potter-like powers which transcend any accountability is simply false.  And, it is unclear why the establishment of the ICC constitutes a constitutional and sovereignty assault against the United States.  The ICC is a treaty-based body; any state, including the United States,  is free to join or not to join this treaty.  If the United States chooses to join the ICC, or any other treaty, potential conflicts with the U.S. Constitution would be resolved through the Supremacy Clause, which establishes the primacy of the Constitution over any inconsistent treaty obligations.  Thus, it is surprising and misleading to claim that the negotiation of a new treaty, like the ICC, is somehow a threat to the United States’ sovereignty or the role of its Constitution.

In addition, Bolton argues that “the Court’s structure is contrary to fundamental American principles, including checks and balances on authority and the separation of powers…..The International Criminal Court, however, melds two of these branches together: the judicial and the executive. In the ICC structure, the executive branch—the Office of the Prosecutor—is an organ of the Court. The Framers of our Constitution considered such a melding of powers unacceptable for our own government, and we should certainly not accept it in the ICC. ”  This is a curious argument: while it may be true that the ICC does not espouse the same separation of powers structure that the United States government does, the United States cannot possibly expect that every treaty-based organization adopt American governance principles.  Multilateral treaties bind multiple nations together and often adopt compromise positions and the “lowest common denominator” of norms; it is not reasonable to expect that treaties would replicate Unites States’ constitutional structures.  And, such replication is not constitutionally mandated.  The United States can become a member of various treaty-based bodies, so long as its obligations under such treaty mechanisms do not directly conflict with the Constitution.  Nothing in the ICC Statute would create such a constitutional conflict.  Thus, Bolton’s argument here is both surprising and unsupported by the Constitution.

Bolton also argues that the ICC “claims ‘automatic jurisdiction,’ meaning that it can prosecute individuals even if their own governments have not recognized, signed, or ratified the treaty.”  This is not true either: the ICC does not have automatic jurisdiction, and Article 12 of its Rome Statute posits that a precondition to the court’s exercise of jurisdiction is that the alleged crimes be committed by a national of a state party, or on the territory of a state party (or if a state accepts the court’s jurisdiction).  Thus, while the ICC may be able to prosecute nationals of a non-party state, this situation is far from automatic, and may only occur if such nationals commit crimes on the territory of a state party.

Bolton claims that the ICC Prosecutor’s request  to investigate Americans for alleged detainee abuse in Afghanistan is “an utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation.”  This investigation is not unfounded in and of itself; the investigation will permit the Prosecutor to ascertain enough facts to decide whether to go forward with any possible prosecutions.  Moreover, the investigation is not unjustifiable, as it falls within the Court’s mandate, and as potential prosecutions would satisfy the Court’s temporal and subject-matter jurisdiction.

Bolton proceeds to criticize the ICC because it “claims jurisdiction over crimes that have disputed and ambiguous definitions, exacerbating the Court’s unfettered powers.  The definitions of crimes, especially crimes of aggression, are vague and subject to wide-ranging interpretation by the ICC.”  This claim is inaccurate: the ICC Statute specifically defines the crimes over which the Court has jurisdiction, and the interpretation and application of these definitions is appropriately left in the hands of the Court’s judiciary, in the same manner that the interpretation and application of domestic statutes is bestowed upon domestic judiciaries.  In addition, Bolton then argues that the ICC would somehow claim universal jurisdiction.  “The next obvious step is to claim complete, universal jurisdiction: the ability to prosecute anyone, anywhere for vague crimes identified by The Hague’s bureaucrats.”  There is nothing in the ICC’s Statute to support this conclusion, and while the Rome Statute negotiating record reveals that different states held different views regarding the Court’s reach and structure, it is false to claim that any serious intentions existed to provide the Court with universal jurisdiction over “anyone” or over “vague crimes.”

Finally, some of Bolton’s claims are, while not completely factually inaccurate, misguided and contrary to United States’ interests.  First, Bolton claims that the ICC is ineffective, as it has spent too much money, has prosecuted few individuals, and has not deterred the commission of atrocities in places such as the DRC, Sudan, Libya, or Syria.  This may be a fair criticism of the Court, but accepting such criticism could lead one to adopt a pro-ICC policy, to support the Court, and to ensure that the Court has better funding and better opportunities to truly deter the commission of atrocities, through its investigative and prosecutorial mechanisms.  This approach would benefit both the Court and all states which are committed to principles of accountability and individual criminal responsibility (United States should be positioned as a leader within this group of countries).  Second, Bolton believes that the ICC is superfluous, because of superior United States’ judicial and ethical standards.  According to Bolton, we do not need the ICC because the United States can handle its own investigations much better.  Bolton argues that the ICC’s application of the complementarity principle is “farcical” and  that the Prosecutor will decide which investigation to pursue based on political motives.  While the ICC has been criticized on complementarity grounds (in the Libya case in particular), there is nothing to suggest that the Prosecutor does not consider complementarity issues seriously, in each case that has been initiated with the Court.  And, even accepting that the United States’ judicial system is superior to the ICC, one could imagine a situation where the United States is unwilling to investigate its own wrongdoing; the ICC’s role is to act in such situations and to provide justice and accountability against perpetrators whose home countries choose to shield them.

Last but not least, most troubling is Bolton’s threat against those who cooperate with the ICC.  “We will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by U.S. law.  We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”  It is absolutely within the United States’ sovereignty to refuse to issue visas/entry to ICC officials who may be foreign nationals (although this would be terrible policy).  However, it is simply unbelievable to announce that the United States would prosecute ICC officials, and other companies or states who assist the ICC, in the U.S. domestic system.  ICC officials are highly respected experts in international criminal law; judges, prosecutors, investigators, and other individuals who have committed their careers to the pursuit of international justice.  Those who assist or have assisted the ICC include our colleagues – the most prominent experts in international criminal law, who have provided advice and expertise to the Court.  What crimes have such individuals committed under United States law? And, how would such prosecutions (even if grounded in U.S. law) affect the United States’ role in international relations and in the world community? John Bolton’s speech is both factually inaccurate as well as misguided, and a new American policy vis-a-vis the ICC, built on Bolton’s remarks, will be detrimental to our own interests and our position in the global community.

For other commentary regarding Bolton’s speech, see here and here.