in hague, fumbling towards justice

The first ever ICC prosecution for war crimes is underway. On trial is Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga; the case for his guilt is being constructed around his training of child soldiers.

This trial gets at much of what makes the fitful attempts at establishing a consistent international law frustrating: Lubanga’s trial has been delayed for years, and he is not the most senior commander of the operations that his trial will hinge on. Nonetheless, his prosecution would not have occurred in Congo. And there are also some important innovations in the trial regarding the participation and representation of victims.

Whatever the difficulties that have confronted the Court until now, the beginning of this trial feels momentous. Few of my fellow internationalists are so deluded to believe that establishing a regime of international law will be easy. The dedicated efforts of thousands of human rights advocates and lawyers is, right now, being put to the test.

In spite of that, there is a lot of ambivalence, even amongst human rights defenders, as to how valuable something like the ICC is and what kind of role it should have in the community of nations.

I think that the participation of nations in these kinds of international institutions will have to be done with an attitude that is experimental and promissory – with all the political risks entailed. The type of thick cooperation that is needed for a judicial organization to operate effectively won’t be made all at once by a treaty or a particularly savvy institution. The cooperation has to come first, then the institutions might stand a chance to follow. This is something that many internationalists miss, and that many nationalists also miss when they insist that the ICC must demonstrate that it will be an effective tool for US interests and international law before it can have our support.

I should add, on that note, that in the face of such overwhelming odds, the ICC could benefit from the unanimous support of the democratic West. Bush’s withdrawal of signature from the Rome Statute, whatever the benefits for our own soldiers and statesmen, can only make the task of the Court more difficult. I hope, but do not expect, that Obama will consider signing on to the treaty once again. He offered only equivocal statements on the issue during the election, but I suppose the current coverage of the Lubanga prosecution could raise the saliency of the issue.

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~ by staticandme on January 26, 2009.

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