The International Criminal Court (ICC) has taken yet another blow to its legitimacy. Earlier this month, both Russia and the Philippines stated their intent to leave the court, raising the number of states intending to withdraw to five. Though Russia never ratified the Rome Treaty, which established the court, the fact that a major global power is intending to leave sends a signal to other less powerful nations like the Philippines, that it’s okay to leave. With these new departures, the ICC urgently needs to find ways to avoid a major exodus if it wants to avoid its complete demise.
So what are some measures the ICC can take right now?
First, it should convene an emergency meeting with all its members to candidly talk about the recent announcements made by Burundi, South Africa, Gambia, Russia, and the Philippines. Instead of criticizing these nations for their intent to leave, the ICC should discuss what they could have done to avoid these departures. This needs to be a soul-searching, so to speak, discussion to figure out how to move forward to avoid further departures. In addition, the court needs to remind its members of why it exists in the first place – to bring justice to those victims of the most atrocious crimes against humanity. This reminder might rekindle the fire in members of why they joined in the first place.
Second, its members need to set-up a summit to discuss structural reforms that need to be made. They need to get into the nitty gritty details to better understand what is and isn’t working. One of the many flaws of the court is the failure to keep members accountable for their actions because of the treaty’s non-binding nature. Though it’ll be difficult to get states to conform to language that keeps them accountable, the court needs to find consensus among its members to ensure they are keeping true to their commitments. This is pretty impossible to do, but some sort of solution needs to be found to give members peace of mind that justice is possible. Regardless, members of the ICC need to really discuss the immediate changes that need to take place to better improve the functioning of the court.
Third, the court needs to reassure African nations that they aren’t being targeted. Yes, the court has cases against countries like the Philippines in the docket, but the court needs to find a way to really stress to African countries that they aren’t the only ones being tried in court. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan took this first step by encouraging African countries to remain a part of the international justice system, but other high-level officials should do so as well. The legitimacy of the court lies in the diversity of its members.
These recommendations are just some quick and easy measures the court can do immediately to avoid further falling into an abyss. At this point, it’s hard to say whether any of these measures would prevent more members from withdrawing from the court. But what I can personally say is that I truly believe in the good of the court. The ICC is an institution that fights for justice on behalf of victims of serious crimes against humanity, and so it would be a shame for the court to leave these victims feeling hopeless.
The ICC’s future is hanging on a thread, and with the new announcements, it’s become evident that structural changes and reforms need to be made if it wants to avoid falling into a pitfall, leading to its eventual extinction. It would be regretful to see the International Criminal Court vanish from the Earth.