September 16, 2019

Inequality in International Criminal Prosecutions

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General Assembly: Legal Committee

Topic: Inequality in International Criminal Prosecutions

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the court of last resort for trying individuals for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression. The ICC resulted from the Rome Statute adopted in 1998, began operations in 2002, and held its first hearing in 2006. As of September 2022, 123 states are party to the Rome Statute. Notably, however, several permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the People’s Republic of China, Russian Federation, and United States — have decided against joining the treaty, meaning they have no legal obligations under the statute.

As with other legal statutes, the Rome Statute was intended to be applied consistently to all states under the ICC’s jurisdiction, but fulfilling that vision has proved more difficult in practice. Many observers have criticized the ICC for advancing inequality, largely due to the cases it decides to prosecute. Entering its third decade of operation, the ICC lacks enough resources to handle its growing docket of cases. Moreover, the ICC requires cooperation from states to enable thorough investigations and hold the appropriate parties accountable. On account of insufficient resources and cooperation, the ICC has been accused of focusing disproportionately on crimes committed in Africa while ignoring those committed by countries like the United States in countries party to the Rome Statute. Addressing this perceived discrepancy is key to bolstering the ICC’s legitimacy and holding those who commit international crimes to account, regardless of where those crimes are committed.

The Legal Committee must decide on appropriate ways to address the perceived inequality in international criminal prosecutions. Addressing this issue may require discussing opportunities to improve the resources available to the ICC and the degree to which states should cooperate with ICC proceedings. In addition, it may be valuable to discuss why certain states have not signed or ratified the Rome Statute and how addressing those states’ concerns may help reduce inequality in international criminal prosecutions.

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