News that the International Criminal Court (ICC) will not prosecute the UK for war crimes committed in Iraq, despite finding compelling evidence that British troops did indeed perpetrate atrocities there, reveals the extent to which imperialist countries are able to operate with relative impunity.
The ICC’s justification for this is that Britain has its own processes for holding its soldiers to account. The fact that these ‘processes’ essentially consist in the army investigating itself apparently did not cause the prosecutors to reconsider their ‘impartial’ decision.
Not that this decision will surprise anyone who remembers when and how the ICC was set up, whom it has always served and what role it has always played.
Where did the ICC come from?
The ICC is hosted in the Hague, capital of the Netherlands (a minor but important player in the imperialist system) and was set up by the Rome Statute of 2002.
Its avowed purpose is to ‘bring to justice’ all individuals suspected of having committed the international crimes of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity – in cases where it was felt that the countries themselves were not taking action against guilty individuals (an important caveat, as seen in the case of Britain).
It was set up following the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, leader of the former Yugoslavia, who had been put on trial for the crime of having refused to submit to imperialist diktat. Not content with having brutally bombed the country to smithereens, the warmongers of the neo-nazi Nato alliance proceeded to hound its leader through a show trial of staggering proportions.
Also hosted in the Hague, the trial was presided over by the so-called ‘International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia’ (ICTY), which had been established in 1993 to assist the imperialist powers in their quest to balkanise Europe’s largest remaining independent country (at that time Russia was totally prostrate before the imperialist hyenas).
President Milosevic defended himself during the four years that the case dragged on for. His defence was convincing and dignified, and hugely embarrassing to the imperialist stooges running the kangaroo court. They were happy to bury the case along with the corpse when President Milosevic died in suspicious circumstances (having been denied requested medical treatment) while the trial was still going on in 2006.
The first case brought by the ICC, meanwhile, has set the trend for its activities ever since. It was against a warlord in Congo – one Thomas Lubanga – who was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for using child soldiers, among other things. Much fanfare about “nobody being above the law” was splashed around the hypocritical bourgeois press when his conviction was announced.
Presumably Lubanga was a warlord the imperialists felt was in their way, or at any rate not worthy of their protection, given that the decades of war that have ravished Congo, creating hundreds of proxy armies and leading to the massacre of millions of Congolese people, have taken place entirely at the behest of western multinationals, which wish to keep looting rights over Congo’s gargantuan mineral wealth – wealth that ought to make the Congolese among the world’s richest rather than poorest citizens. (The Playstation war, Conflict Mineral website, 2012)
China and USA both refuse to ratify the Rome statute, for very different reasons
A number of countries have always declined to sign up to the ICC, for widely different reasons. China, which neither invades other countries nor funds wars of aggression, has in principle always encouraged a permanent international criminal court, but has concerns that the ICC trespasses upon what is properly within the remit of the United Nations security council alone when it arrogates to itself the authority to determine whether or not a state has committed an act of aggression.
Justifiably fearing that this encroachment on the rights of the UNSC exposes the ICC to manipulation by imperialist powers, China has chosen not to seek membership. Anyone doubting that such manipulation steers the work of the ICC need only take note of the fact that the vast majority of ICC investigations have homed in on Africa whilst the investigators mostly hail from (or owe allegiance to) the former colonial European powers.
Almost every African nation joined the ICC, and, of the thirteen cases currently under investigation, nine involve African nationals in conflicts driven by imperialist intervention – ie, in proxy wars that are being or have been waged in the interests of imperialism. This, of course, is never mentioned by the ICC.
The USA’s reason for not signing up to the ICC, by contrast, is simply that it does not want to be held responsible for its own war crimes by the UNSC, the ICC or any other body – including the US Congress itself.
The US War Powers Resolution of 1973 requires the president to get authorisation from Congress before declaring war, yet since the Rome Statute of 2002 was passed this has been violated many times over in one war after another. In fact:
“Under Article I of the constitution, only Congress can declare war, raise armies, and maintain navies, and otherwise provide funds for the common defence. The president, by contrast, is commander in chief of the military. Both branches have huge responsibilities; neither can wage war by their own decision or preference.
“Yet Congress has not declared war since World War II. Nor has it formally approved, in any meaningful alternative way (except belatedly through the appropriations process), several of the major conflicts the nation has engaged in since then – notably, the Korean war, Vietnam war, Kosovo war, or 2011 Libya operation”. (It did, ex post facto, approve the invasion of Iraq.) (War powers in the era of Joe Biden and Lloyd Austin by Amy McGrath and Michael E O’Hanlon, Brookings Institute, 18 December 2020)
The US’s recent trail of carnage is well known, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya, Syria and Iraq, to name but the most heinous. Millions around the world have been killed by illegal invasions and bombings at the behest of US imperialism, yet no-one has ever been held to account for these horrific crimes.
The US said it would deign to join the ICC on condition that it had the right to veto any proposed investigation, and when this was opposed by other countries the Americans worked hard to discredit the ICC and to punish opposing countries by threatening economic sanctions.
In 2002, the administration of George W Bush even signed into law the American Servicemembers Protection Act, which included a clause threatening to invade the Hague to liberate any soldier that the ICC might have the temerity to try to indict! (US: ‘Hague Invasion Act’ becomes law, Human Rights Watch, 3 August 2002)
According to Wikipedia: “The current administration of Donald Trump is considerably more hostile to the court, threatening prosecutions and financial sanctions on ICC judges and staff in US courts as well as imposing visa bans in response to any investigation against American nationals in connection to alleged crimes and atrocities perpetrated by the US in Afghanistan. The threat included sanctions against any of over 120 countries which have ratified the court for cooperating in the process.” (Accessed 20 December 2020)
The true meaning of ‘international law’ in 2020
While alleged transgressors from oppressed countries are routinely prosecuted, such major war criminals as George W Bush and Tony Blair cannot be indicted there. (Nor will any members of the CIA involved in the torture and waterboarding of prisoners in Poland and Romania, having been assured in 2009 by the then President Barack Obama that they would not face any consequences.)
In a speech he made in 2018, that infamous architect of the Iraq war and former national security advisor John Bolton shared his thoughts on American exceptionalism. The US would stop at nothing “to protect our citizens” if the ICC dared to prosecute US servicemen suspected of abusing Afghan prisoners, he said, including barring ICC judges and prosecutors from coming into America, sanctioning their funds and prosecuting them in US courts. Moreover, Bolton threatened that the US would do the same for any company or state that “assists an ICC investigation of Americans”.
In 2020, overturning a previous decision not to proceed, senior judges at the ICC authorised an investigation into the US’s alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. That decision led the Trump administration to power an economic and legal attack on the court.
“The US government has reason to doubt the honesty of the ICC. The Department of Justice has received substantial credible information that raises serious concerns about a long history of financial corruption and malfeasance at the highest levels of the office of the prosecutor,” said US attorney general William Barr.
It is clear that the ICC is at best a toothless bulldog, incapable of curbing or holding to account the real imperialist warmongers. At worst, it is just another tool by which imperialism justifies the hounding of those who fall foul of its domination agenda and whitewashes its imperialist wars.
This is the true meaning of ‘international law’ in a world dominated by imperialism – a world where reality has been turned on its head and words have lost all connection with their meanings.
The imperialists know only one language – that of force. As far as they are concerned, might is right. The only way they will ever be held to account is by order of a risen working class.