International Criminal Court head speaks about the Hague

By Janine Kranz

Philippe Kirsch, first president of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and former Canadian ambassador to Sweden, gave a lecture Thursday night at the Gleacher Center concerning the history, powers, and present condition of the newly formed legal body.

His speech was part of the Major Speaker Series of the Center for Policy Practice at the University of Chicago’s Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy (GSPP).

“The Series is part of the center’s mission to build a bridge from the classroom to the community through activities and programs that bring [together] students and faculty with policy makers and organizations that make a positive difference in the world,” said Susan Mayer, dean and associate professor of the GSPP.

The ICC, which Kirsch described as a result of evolution of international criminal justice, was created by the Rome Statute in 1998 and was established on July of 2002 when 89 countries ratified the agreement.

The court, which is located in The Hague, Netherlands, acts as a permanent forum for individuals who have committed genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity to be prosecuted. “The ICC will replace the inefficient ad hoc tribunals that have been used in the past in places such as Rowanda and Yugoslavia,” Kirsch said.

The United States’ participation in the ICC has been a source of great controversy. Although it initially participated in the construction of the ICC in 1998, the U.S. government did not ratify the treaty in 2002. Those against U.S. participation argue that the ICC may assert improper or politically motivated jurisdiction over U.S. citizens and would threaten American sovereignty.

Kirsch tried to address these fears in his lecture, and emphasized that the court would be “highly and carefully regulated.” He added that the ICC is a court of last resort, only conducting trials in cases where the states involved were unable or unwilling to conduct the trial themselves.

Kirsch said that ICC procedures will be very tight since the prosecutor will have to obtain approval from a pre-trial chamber of judges before starting investigations, trials, or implementing arrest warrants. In addition to the pre-trial chamber, the prosecution has “an obligation to tell the states involved about the investigation as the state has the option to conduct its own trial,” according to Kirsch.

“If anything, the ICC’s desire to protect state rights may actually weaken our ability to practice international justice,” Kirsch said.

Since its ratification, the ICC has received 715 communications of alleged crimes, three of which are from the United States.

Although Kirsch could not discuss the details of any of the investigations or allegations, he did note that many of the allegations did not fall in the court’s jurisdiction. The ICC can only prosecute crimes that both are part of the statutes committed after July 2002 and involve states that are members of the ICC.

“We received allegations of crimes involving tax fraud. We also received allegations of crimes committed in Iraq. We are unable to investigate either of these because they do not fall in our jurisdiction,” Kirsch said.

When asked during the question-and-answer session about U.S. involvement in the ICC, Kirsch stated: “I learned long ago not to speak on behalf of the U.S. government. However, support from the United States would be helpful as the ICC’s ability to pursue international justice is derived from both the strength of its statutes and the support it receives.”

Although Kirsch admits that the ICC is still working out the most efficient way to provide fair trials, he said the ICC would provide the highest standard of justice while preserving the rights of victims, the states, and the accused.