Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"International Law" vs. National Peace

One of Africa's worst conflicts may be ending. A cease-fire has been announced between the Government of Uganda in the Lord's Resistance Army. The latter is an appallingly brutal rebel group of the sort that has plagued that continent for years. Among their military tactics are the recruitment of children, the brainwashing of soldiers into believing that they are invulnerable to bullets, and the use of mutilation to intimidate local populations. It is only a cease-fire, not a permanent peace. Still, given all the years of bloodshed in the absence of any prior breakthrough of this magnitude, there is reason for hope.

The most interesting development thus far is the reaction of the International Criminal Court. Their main concern seems not to be the viability of the peace but whether or not they will get their hands on LRA leaders. From the BBC article linked above:

The International Criminal Court (ICC) wants the LRA's top officials - among them Joseph Kony - to face charges including murder, rape and forcibly enlisting children. The LRA has abducted thousands of children and forced them to fight since the conflict began.

Against the wishes of the ICC, Uganda offered amnesty to LRA leaders in exchange for the peace talks.

The ICC, like any political organization, seeks to increase its power and authority. If they seriously seek the extradition of LRA leaders to The Hague, they put the entire peace process at risk. Supporters of the ICC view it as the world's conscience, the sole organization fit to stand in judgment of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Unfortunately the ICC, like the UN, is so distant and depends so heavily on the support of nonconsensual governments that any increase in its power is as much a threat to freedom and human rights as a bulwark of it. Sometimes the establishment of judicial review is a tremendous step forward; the US probably functions much better because John Marshall established in Marbury V. Madison that the U.S. Supreme Court was the ultimate referee of whether or not laws pass muster with the Constitution. But Marbury was decided against the backdrop of a constitution built on the principle of checks and balances. The ultimate effect of Marshall's decision was to constrain the other two branches of government in addition to strengthening the judicial branch.

The ICC, in contrast, is far more subject to the whims of realpolitik and hence its power is far more dangerous. It is a floating independent entity in a position to accumulate power by exploiting geopolitical rivalries. (In implication of this hypothesis is that, despite the fact that the US is not a signatory to the ICC, it's jurists will ultimately create a legal rationale to make the US military subject to its jurisdiction.) The ICC sees itself as the guarantor of international law, but the law it seeks to guarantee is a creation primarily of academics and believers in a remote and unaccountable global government. That it would seek to grab power so shamelessly in this instance, if that is ultimately what happens, is as good an indication of that as any.


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