In spite of the overt divisiveness that has come to characterize America’s political climate in recent months, there are still a select few topics that all people, no matter their individual political allegiances, can come to an agreement on. One such topic is the denial of impunity for people who commit various war crimes and human rights violations.
In response to this unspoken agreement on international moral standards, in 2002, the International Criminal Court was established to promote the primacy of normative standards and pursue anyone whose actions violate said standards. Since the creation of the ICC several war criminals have been held accountable for the deaths of innocent people. Since the creation of the ICC the United States has done everything in its power to derail the court’s mission.
The United States policy towards the ICC is antithetical to the narrative of a nation dedicated to human rights American diplomats tirelessly portray to foreign nations. The signing of the Rome Statute (the document that would make the U.S. a member nation of the ICC) by former President Clinton at the end of his term was promptly negated by former President Bush. This marked the beginning of the adversarial position the U.S. has taken against the court.
For eight long years the hypocrisy of America’s human rights advocacy while opposing the very court its allies are member nations of has weighed heavily on U.S. foreign policy. With the election of our current president the prospect of U.S. participation in the ICC seemed guaranteed. Unfortunately, as on so many other issues, President Obama remains hesitant on deviating from his predecessor’s policy.
Earlier this year Stephen Rapp, Ambassador–at–Large for War Crimes Issues, said that the United States was “unlikely to become a member of the International Criminal Court for the foreseeable future.” For the realists, who believe signing the Rome Statute will make U.S. citizens subject to the will of a foreign power, this is great news. But for the hundreds of millions of people, who are forced to cope with their human rights being violated on a regular basis, Rapp’s comments couldn’t be more dubious.
The president’s failure to realize the implications of an international legislative body legitimized by the support of the world’s sole superpower is disastrous for the promotion of human rights. Many war criminals brazenly carry out atrocities under the assumption that there will be no consequences. Should the U.S. lend its full support to the organization, would-be war criminals would be less inclined to commit such crimes. U.S. participation would act as a deterrent to human rights violations.
Unfortunately the prospects of U.S. participation are bleak. The president can’t ignore the conservative political reaction to joining the court. With the election a few days away, it’s understandable that the president is avoiding high political issues like the plague. That, coupled with the fact that a two thirds vote is required for the ratification of the Rome Statute and the Republicans are poised for major victories in both houses, means it will be quite some time before the idea of the U.S. becoming a member nation can even be legitimately entertained.
Whoever is president when this happens, they shouldn’t repeat the mistake our current president made by allowing bombastic political rhetoric to derail American foreign policy. If the United States truly prides itself on its commitment to human rights, it should step out of the dark ages and join the International Criminal Court.