International Criminal Court Upholds Impunity

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Muammar Gaddafi, his son, and his top intelligence man under the Rome Statute’s provisions constituting crimes against humanity. Good; they are sick murderous tyrants. But who should be next?

The Explanatory Memorandum of the relevant articles of the Rome Statute say actions qualifying as crimes against humanity must “constitute a serious attack on human dignity” but that “murder, extermination, torture, rape, political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice.” Our government’s practice of piloting Predator drones primarily in the area of Northwest Pakistan almost surely applies.

Begun under Bush and drastically expanded under Obama, the drone program consistently kills civilians although clear statistics are difficult to amass given how isolated the area is and how difficult it is for journalists or human rights groups to get in there and find out for sure. But estimates are available. (Go here for drone statistics.) In 2009, 53 drone strikes that we know about were launched. The high estimate for the number of people killed is 724. In 2010, strikes increased dramatically, numbering 118, and killing, at a low estimate 607 people, and a high estimate 993. So far in 2011 there have been 29 attacks, killing a high estimate of 222 people. From 2004 – 2011, deaths from drone strikes are somewhere between 1,483 – 2,364. If the Brookings Institution is correct that for each drone strike approximately ten civilians are murdered for every 1 militant, that is something like 1,800 civilians killed.

With no signs of this program being eliminated or slowing down at all, it seems to qualify explicitly as a “widespread or systemic practice.” It has killed a number of civilians roughly comparable to the number of civilians claimed dead in Libya just prior to NATO intervention (although not a single organization I’m aware of is keeping close track of civilian casualties in the conflict). Gaddafi has been accused of crimes against humanity. Barack Obama is lauded as the leader of the free world.

If the operational basis of the International Criminal Court epitomizes this hypocrisy, it contradicts its own statement of purpose: “to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.” They merely uphold this scheme of impunity for powerful criminals.

Keep in mind that I’m really focusing on only one program among many deadly programs. The analysis could of course include so called “kill/capture” operations or night raids in Afghanistan (described in this Frontline episode as a “vast and secret” program) which result in numerous civilian casualties and is quite obviously a “systemic practice.” It could include the general policy of a surge in Afghanistan, which has sharply increased civilian deaths. It could even include the crimes that are officially sanctioned by the U.S., but committed by others, like the recent atrocities in Yemen, Bahrain, Palestine, and elsewhere in the region. With these inclusions, the disproportionate ratios of civilian casualties resulting from widespread and systemic practices of outlaw states make it terribly clear that the ICC is not an unbiased, dispassionate arbiter of justice for major atrocities. Whatever it is, it’s not that.

  • the lion

    The more the ICC with the help of the US Government tries to indict persons from countries who have not signed up to the jurisdiction of the ICC, the easier it will be to prosecute US War Criminals like YOO and Bybee, Cheney and Bush and others from the current Administration.

  • Ricardus

    The ICC is a weapon. Though the US claimed to be opposed to it, and would not sign the Rome agreement establishing it, it sneaked in Article 13 which allows the UN Security Council to use it against a non-signing country. That's how they indicted Bashir in the Sudan and that's how they're going after Qaddafi. None of these countries signed the Rome agreement so the ICC doesn't apply but the Security Council has the "right" to focus it on unwilling countries as a weapon as part of a Chapter VII resolution. That type of resolution was illegally used to create the ICTY which served a similar purpose; a weapon used to re-order a country or region. In that case it was Yugoslavia, in this case it's Libya. Chapter VII "all necessary" means resolutions tend to be live up until the point that a country or region is remade to the liking of the empire. To this day Iraq is being bludgeoned with Chatper VII resolutions from the Saddam era in order for the re-ordering to proceed as desired.

  • skulz fontaine

    The ICC, what an ugly joke. If/and/or/whenever the ICC issues 'arrest warrants' for Bush, Cheney, Rummy, Rice, slap-happy Colin Powell, T. Blair, Howard 'the Oz', and well you could make one helluva long list here, the ICC would do well to simply STFU and sit on the sidelines and play "who's a sycophant for political profit."

  • Janine

    Don't blame the ICC for any shortcomings in that organization. Like the UN its just a handy tool and whipping boy for the powerful nations within its membership. If you really want them (ICC /UN) to BE and ACT independently then first start by lobbying your government so they then support ,rather than drive actions of those bodies.

  • mauro

    Stop the war in Lybia
    sign and shre this petition
    Thanks http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/stopwar/

  • Ricardus

    The head of the ICC by the way openly blamed the Hutus as being responsible for the great Congo wars of the last couple of decades. This is enough to discredit him completely.

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