The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) came into force on July 1, 2002. The establishment of an ICC was part of the same humanitarian agenda that crystallised in the post-World War II era in the form of the creation of the United Nations and the adoption of instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention against Genocide and the Geneva Conventions. The UN-backed ICC’s mandate is to bring to justice to perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. While it has the backing of 123 nation states, the ICC bore the brunt of protests against it from countries like the United States, China, Russia, Israel, India etc. even before it could become fully operational.
The Guardian reported on Monday that US National Security Advisor John Bolton said the Trump administration would “fight back” and impose sanctions– even seeking to criminally prosecute ICC officials – if the court formally proceeded with opening an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by US military and intelligence staff during the war in Afghanistan or pursued any investigation into Israel or other US allies.
The ICC was set up after years of deliberations by the international community to intervene in a nonviolent manner into conflicts where governments were unwilling to or incapable of addressing atrocity crimes. While such interventions will encroach on the Westphalian sovereignty of nation states, the Rome Statute of the ICC brings focus on the people affected by crimes that uproot the foundations of humanity, the right to live in harmony, peace and dignity, as self-determining human beings.
Bolton’s rant against the ICC is a reminder and reiteration of the free ticket that regimes, authoritarian or democratic, and majoritarian societies hold to continue with atrocity crimes, undermining the rights of all peoples and human beings. It is an open backing of human rights violations, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
India has also abstained from signing the Rome Statute of the ICC under the pretext of protecting its sovereignty. This, while mass killings in India remain as broad as daylight with the Indian State failing in its obligation to protect its citizens. Ensaaf, an organisation working to end impunity and achieve justice for crimes against humanity in India recently released a well classified map profiling more than 5000 victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Punjab from 1984.
According to Ensaaf, during the 1980s and 1990s, India’s security forces engaged in widespread and systematic human rights violations in the state of Punjab, as part of counterinsurgency operations aimed at crushing a violent self-determination movement. But India’s institutions have failed to acknowledge the systematic and widespread nature of the abuses, and accordingly have not provided truth, justice, and reparations to the victims and survivors.
This is true of a number of other cases spread across the country where such crimes have neither been addressed nor damages repaired. In India today, one may be jailed for just speaking on behalf of justice for victims and survivors of mass political violence that has marked India’s journey into the 21st century.
In such a scenario, the international community has responded with the ICC’s Rome Statute to hold individuals accountable for these crimes when powerful nation states have remained unable or unwilling to provide justice, failing the people who give legitimacy to state sovereignty. While the bullying tendencies of the powerful may not end, this is a fresh opportunity for the 123 sensible nation states (signatories) to strengthen their stance for justice and the principles that define the Rome Statute of the ICC.
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