There has been considerable (and a mostly successful) effort to set up an International Criminal Court (ICC). The purpose is to have a body that can prosecute serious crimes against humanity no matter who committed them and to try people for gross violations of human rights, such as those committed during military conflicts. Why have some nations, such as the United States, feared a loss of sovereignty even when that would not happen, and thus sought to undermine the ICC?
The U.S. opposed the ICC from the beginning, surprising and disappointing many people. Human rights organizations and social justice groups around the world, and from within the US, were very critical of the U.S. stance given its dominance in world affairs.
The U.S. did eventually signed up to the ICC just before the December 2000 deadline to ensure that it would be a State Party that could participate in decision-making about how the Court works. However,
By May 2002, the Bush Administration unsigned the Rome Statute.
The U.S. threatened to use military force if U.S. nationals were held at the Hague
The U.S. continues to pressure many countries to sign agreements not to surrender U.S. citizens to the ICC.
But why would a country, often vocal in the area of human rights, and often amongst the first to promote human rights as a global issue in the past refuse to sign up to an international law and institution designed to protect human rights?
Signing up by December 2002 to the ICC was important for countries if they wanted a say in future discussions of the ICC. After that time, they could ratify the ICC Rome Statute but not have a say. Some countries that initially opposed the ICC, such as the U.S., did however, sign up at the last minute to retain influence some.
60 ratifications were needed to get the ICC off the ground, achieved by April 11, 2002. From July 1, 2002 onwards, any acts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity committed after this date can be tried by the Court.
While only the beginning, the road to the 60 ratifications (now around 90) has been full of controversy. In Rome, July 1998, the ICC was given the go-ahead with a vote of 120 to 7. The seven who voted against were USA, China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar and Yemen. Yet it was the actions of the U.S. that surprised most people.
The case against Augusto Pinochet, a dictator in Chile for 17 years, would be one example (amongst many others that will be added here over time), where the ICC could have been useful to bring a brutal dictator to justice. In the late 1990s, there were various attempts by European countries to bring him to justice, though nothing eventually happened. However, it gained some mainstream media attention. Also highlighted was how Pinochet was accused of ordering killings, abductions and torture of over 1000 Chileans and others during his 17 years of rule.