The scenes of devastation and destruction emerging from Libya have rightly provoked international condemnation. Libya’s referral to the International Criminal Court for further investigation signal a rules based international order based on universal human rights and values.
That is the theory any way. The following examples suggest a more complicated picture.
What are we to make of the fact that three of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are not yet signatories to the Treaty of Rome establishing the International Criminal Court? So, the UN unanimously refers Libya to the International Criminal Court but more than half its members refuse to be signatories? Make sense of that if you can.
Does it matter that the only cases currently being investigated by the International Criminal Court are all African based? Does the International Criminal Court and our understanding of international justice risk being seen by others as just another form of Western imperialism?
Should the International Criminal Court’s prosecution of Sudan’s President Bashir be deferred for a year or two as reward for his cooperation over the secession referendum and as incentive to secure his future restraint? It is strikingly odd that European leaders are actively and openly discussing such an option, while at the same time vocally pressing for Gaddafi’s referral to the International Criminal Court. Has the media attention on Libya and the political quest for peace in Sudan blinded us to the disproportionate use of force currently been used against civilians in Darfur?
And, whilst we are on the subject, what about the situation in Sri Lanka? Is it right that the government’s successful execution of its counter insurgency operation in 2009, which perhaps left as many as 30,000 civilians killed, should go unsanctioned?
All of this goes to show the embarrassing bind that governments get themselves into when applying theory into practice. Justice is an end in and of itself and should not be seen as just another conflict resolution tool to be used when governments think it necessary or convenient.