International justice is in its infancy – we need to support it

your say September 26, 2018 01:00

Debates on the effectiveness of investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on military and political crimes in Myanmar continue.

Honest debate on the pros and cons is needed. Why is US security adviser John Bolton spouting vitriol and threatening sanctions against judges and prosecutors of this very young court that is still proving itself? 

An early predecessor of the ICC was the (Bertrand) Russell Tribunal, presided over by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in 1967. The private tribunal provided evidence of war crimes committed by the US in Vietnam and helped to end the war, to the great relief of the Vietnamese population and American youth who protested conscription and being forced to fight against their will. Nevertheless, the dirty war continued until 1975 as US hawks and hardliners held sway.

Constructing an international framework of justice and peace-building depends not just on nation-states but also on civil society – though the latter is often suppressed. 

Civil-society tribunals can be of great influence. Decades after the Russell Tribunal exposed US war crimes in Vietnam, the Monsanto Tribunal (2017) presented evidence that the pharmaceuticals company was complicit because of its manufacture of Agent Orange. 

The advisory opinions of the civil society tribunal opened the way for new cases in formal courts, aiding the prevention of future damage to health, livelihoods and the environment. Patient and pragmatic ICC investigations regarding Myanmar, Afghanistan (where Bolton bears responsibility) and the Philippines – and a future mandate to investigate corporations – will certainly gradually help to contain crimes against humanity and our ecosystem.   

Hans van Willenswaard