Last night I saw the New York premier of The Reckoning. The crowd was quite astonishing. There were two prosecutors from the International Criminal Court, Christine Chung and Fatou Bensouda, both are also featured in the film. The top brass from Human Rights Watch were also present along with one of the prosecutors from the Nuremberg trials. When Pamela Yates, the director, introduced him he got a standing ovation.
The film was stark and penetrating. It discussed the worst war crimes and crimes against humanity of our time, but did so in a rational, rights based justice context. The main character in The Reckoning is the International Criminal Court itself. Founded in 2002, its mandate is to try the perpetrators of crimes that have been committed since the court’s inception. A stipulation exists that the court may only make cases against member states, unless the UN Security Council has referred them to mount an investigation.
In other words, the ICC is based on a treaty, when a country signs on to the treaty, it then formalizes its stand against impunity, and it makes its citizens eligible for possible investigation. However, the process requires the court to be a last resort only applied if a country proves unable or unwilling to try its own perpetrators. Over 100 countries have signed on to the treaty, but the United States, China, Russia, and Iraq have all refused to do so.
Since its founding the ICC has made cases against the leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, war lords in the Congo and the people with the most responsibility for the Darfur genocide, including Al-Bashir, the president of Sudan. They have also built a preliminary case in Columbia against paramilitary leaders and the corrupt members of government who support them.
Like any other court the way the ICC operates is by gathering evidence and using to to try criminals. By insisting upon rule of law in the international arena they are able to combat atrocities in areas of the world where there has been no justice and powerful leaders remain punished for their crimes.
This is an extremely important aim. The film shows the victims of abduction, child soldiers who were forced to be killers or sex slaves, women who were raped and babies that were beaten to the point of brain damage. Distressingly the restriction that the court faces is its lack of an enforcement arm. As the ICC has not been granted a military or police force it must rely on the national forces of each member state or wait for the UN Security Council to agree to send UN forces.
Right now an ICC arrest warrant for President Al-Bashir stands, but his forces will not turn him in, and as Sudan is a sovereign state no other country’s military can enter and arrest him, without it being seen as an act of war. The Security Council could go in and enforce the warrant, but they have yet to do so. As China and the US hold sway on the council its unlikely that this result will occur.
A beacon of hope in the world, the ICC stands as a glass giant in the Hague, but the question the film poses is will its halls be filled with prosecuted criminals, or will it be rendered ineffective as little more than a symbol.