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International justice

58 - European policy towards the ICC and international criminal tribunals

Grade: B-
Unity 4/5
Resources 3/5
Outcome 5/10
Total 12/20
Scorecard 2012: B+ (15/20)

Europeans failed to involve the ICC in Syria, despite repeated attempts, but managed to defend it from African efforts to limit the court’s reach.

European defenders of the ICC faced a difficult year as they tried to involve it in the Syrian crisis and defend its role in Africa. In January, all EU member states except Sweden signed a letter co-ordinated by Switzerland demanding that the UNSC should refer Syria to the ICC (Sweden argued that a referral might make it harder to come to a political agreement with the Syrian government). The letter had little effect, as China, Russia, and the US all remained opposed to involving the ICC. However, as the bloodshed in Syria worsened, EU member states again called on the UNSC to invoke the ICC. In September, with the chemical weapons crisis apparently likely to end in US-led strikes on Syria, Germany (in this case supported by Sweden) called for the ICC to lead an investigation. After the US negotiated the deal to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal with Russia, France indicated its discontent by floating a UNSC resolution invoking the ICC. American officials pushed back hard against this option, and the final UN resolution did not mention the court.

Meanwhile, African leaders were increasingly critical of the ICC’s role on their continent. In November, the African members of the UNSC tabled a resolution calling for it to delay criminal proceedings against Kenya’s president and vice-president over mass killings conducted in 2007–2008. This bid had momentum after the Nairobi shopping-mall massacre. The European members of the UNSC, the US, and their allies abstained on the proposal, denying it enough votes to pass. A compromise deal was later made to limit the amount of time the Kenyans spend in The Hague during their trials. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia also continued to conduct its final cases. In 2014, European policymakers may also have to deal with the fallout from the “Hariri Tribunal” set up to investigate the murder of the former Lebanese leader, which is very likely to implicate Syrian officials.