In a century in which human rights have passed from being somehow of a proselytist fallacy to being the core of the global political debate, international tribunals couldn’t be out of the discussion. This begs the question: Is the International Court of Justice a productive institution or a bureaucratic hoax?
Since their creation, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has historically penetrated into people’s minds as a symbol of world balance. For global media, “The Hague” is a name that usually connotes fairness and order. However, for many critics, world tribunals are institutions that always go on wild goose chases.
Regardless of recent far-reaching decisions, such as those taken with Yugoslavia and Rwanda crimes (Both important examples in this article), the topic still generates conflicts of opinions. Even though there is a consensus: international courts are not as powerful as they should, and here is why.
The Nature of the Courts
Understanding the jurisdiction of the current international courts implies considering their origin.
As grandchildren of the League of Nations’s court (1922-1946) and cousins of the trials in Nuremberg and Tokyo, the role of the tribunals in the Hague was clear. A space for justice between nations was needed to avoid war and to preserve peace. Aiming so, the International Court of Justice became the judicial arms of the UN, whose job was to judge over international law enforcement.
Their jurisprudence based on the global treaties between nations. So that, as regional international laws were created, continental tribunals also arrived. Hence, nowadays, 22 multilateral judicial entities exist worldwide. Even though several critics say that their number overshadows their excellence.
In that sense, one of the main complaints about the International Court of Justice led the UN to promote the creation of another body. In 1998, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was born in the Hague through the Rome Statute. It aimed to solve cases of crimes against humanity. This allowed civilians, for the first time in history, to incriminate entire governments and regimens in a global permanent tribunal. Or so it was said.
International Court of Justice: The Controversy
Critics are on the same page. Perhaps the main preoccupation of specialists is that world tribunals can’t push the parties to appear before them. Fleeing and refusals are common issues. Since non-intervention is the shield of many countries, nations can refuse to accept resolutions with almost no reprisal.
Ignoring arbitration is especially typical in big and powerful countries. One notorious example is when the US decided not to follow the International Court of Justice resolutions about their meddling in Nicaragua’s conflicts. Since the very own host of the UN headquarters preferred, by 1986, to disregard the judgment of the International Court of Justice, the institution gained the reputation of being useless.
During that time, Jeane Kirkpatrick, United States Ambassador for the UN, said – in a petulant way – that the International Court of Justice was a ‘semi-legal, semi-judicial, semi-political body that nations sometimes accept and sometimes not’. That means the US took a defensive stance in front of international justice.
In the same way, when the International Criminal Court was established in 1998 to ensure punishment for crimes against humanity, several big states didn’t sign. Currently, China, US, and Russia don’t accept the International Criminal Court’s rule. That is to say, three permanent members of the global Security Council rejected the jurisdiction of the court in their boundaries – Just imagine how little nations feel about that.
Ad Hoc Trials Fare Better
In 1993, the UN established an alternative mechanism (ad hoc) to judge over certain cases of human rights violations: International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Both are highlighted as being amazing instances of world justice. In these examples, after the plights, the responsible ones of leading the genocides that happened in both nations were judged and swiftly punished.
Many scholars point out that ad hoc tribunals of the UN are the best examples of the global judicial system. However, critics think that judgment doesn’t really cool the conflicts. An opinion that is also frequently found with analysts of the International Criminal Court. They consider that the entity is used to promote conflict instead of resolving it.
Even in Africa, the continent with the biggest number of solved cases by the International Criminal Court detraction is a thing. African governments feel that the institution is used to pressure regimes on the continent following World Powers’ cues.
When talking about regional courts, the flaws are clearer. The Interamerican Court of Human Right and African tribunals seems to be even less effective. Their historical role has been limited to giving advice that is frequently ignored.
International Court of Justice: Not Enough
Even though there have been highlightable achievements, global courts can’t guarantee impartiality yet. Arbitration and recommendation are not usually subjects of attention. And, as Jeane Kirkpatrick said, the courts are currently bodies that nations either accept or not. Since these limitations exist, fair global justice is still a utopia.
International courts have to evolve a lot until tribunals can achieve their commitment.