In 1945, two monumental tribunals arose out of the ashes of World War II: The International Military Tribunals at Nuremberg, Germany and Tokyo, Japan. Both were established by the victorious nations of the war in order to provide swift justice for the victims of atrocities and punishment for the perpetrators of them.
In the decades after the War, several ad hoc tribunals were established to deal with various state-sponsored crimes, including those tribunals set up in Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990's. An all-encompassing tool of justice, though, had yet to be organized.
A 1998 meeting of nations in Rome, however, addressed the widespread desire for international justice by creating the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC was constructed by the United Nations to be a permanent, non-partisan judicial instrument to "promote the rule of law and ensure that the gravest crimes do not go unpunished."
Those "gravest crimes" include genocide; crimes against humanity; war crimes; and the crime of aggression (see Part I, Articles 5-8 of the Rome Statute for detailed definitions -Web address provided below).
The Court officially became operational on July 1, 2002 in The Hague, Netherlands.
Four nations are under investigation by the ICC, including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Darfur. In March, 2009, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al-bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur region of Sudan.
At the center of a controversy, though, is the United States, which has yet to ratify, or sign, the Statute. The U.S. contends that the Court would unfairly single out crimes committed by American soldiers serving abroad, and that there would be "politically motivated prosecutions," with the ICC "supplanting the United States' use of its own well-functioning domestic and military court system."
At the end of the Clinton administration, the U.S. tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a way to support the court, but protect Americans. President Bush adamantly opposed any U.S. involvement. President Obama has not yet made any clear statements of his position on signing the Statute.
Glossary (definitions taken from encarta.msn.com)
- ad hoc: done for particular purpose: done or set up solely in response to a particular situation or problem and without considering wider issues
- impunity: freedom from unpleasant consequences: exemption from punishment, harm, or recrimination
- ratify: formally approve something: to give formal approval to something, usually an agreement negotiated by somebody else, in order that it can become valid or operative
- tribunal: a law court: a court of justice
Activity 1 - What constitutes and international crime?
1. Place the students into groups of 3-4.
2. Distribute and discuss the definitions of each crime category, such as genocide or crimes against humanity (see background above).
3. Prepare several sets (depending on class size) of individual slips of paper with each crime category written on a separate sheet. For example: On one sheet would be written war crimes, on another aggression, and so on, which would be duplicated for each group.
4. Prepare other individual slips of paper with each particular explanation of the crimes as defined by the Rome Statute (such as "Killing members of the group" or "enslavement") written on a slip. Again, this should be done for each group.
5. Separately distribute the category slips as well as the crime slips to each group, being sure not to link them together as specified in the Rome Statute.
6. Then have each group attempt to match the specific crime with the crime category as outlined in the Statute. For example, "Killing members of the group" would be matched with "genocide".
7. Once complete, have each group share its results and justifications for the outcome. In other words, ask them to explain what drove the decisions to categorize in a particular way.
8. Then show the actual documents from the Rome Statute and indicate the way in which it categorizes the crimes.
9. Discuss the results of the activity as a class, perhaps focusing on how various crimes can overlap and how, or if, the crimes should be categorized at all - is there a ranking system implied by the Statute, or are all crimes seemingly treated equally?
Activity 2 - Comparing the Court to our own legal system
1. Have the students carefully read the background information and the Online NewsHour article (either prior to the lesson or in class), and briefly discuss the Court's history and significance.
2. Distribute the excerpt provided from the Court's statutes and that of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights
3. Place the class in small groups (3-4 students each)
4. In the groups, have the students read and briefly discuss the excerpts
5. Then have each group answer:
a. How do the two legal philosophies relate in their policies on how a crime should be prosecuted? In other words, what are the procedures for achieving justice?
b. In both documents, what sort of powers and/or protections are the accused and/or the victim given?
c. What similarities/differences can be found in the language of the documents? Is it formal/informal? General/specific? Basic/technical? Vague/precise? What conclusions might you draw, based on the type of language being used?
d. In what ways, if any, does the Rome Statute challenge or contradict the Constitution? Why might the U.S. not want to ratify it?
6. Discuss the responses as an entire class, then have students write an essay offering their own opinion about whether the United States should or should not participate in the International Criminal Court.
Have the students analyze the recent media coverage of the issue of the International Criminal Court (Note: if possible, include coverage of the court from foreign newspaper clippings and Internet sites) and respond to the following questions. The questions might be addressed in the form of an essay, through an oral presentation or by a graphic representation.
- In general, how much coverage has the media given to the issue?
- How is the print coverage different from television or radio coverage? Which is more comprehensive?
- Comparing the coverage abroad, what observations can you make? Do nations with stricter punitive practices (death penalty, life imprisonment) or recent histories of war crimes (Bosnia, Iraq) view the issue differently from other nations? (Note: Most nations have English-language news coverage.)
- How have statistics been used by the media in this case? How often are people's views surveyed and documented? How representative are those surveys? How are the statistics used to defend various groups' stances on the issue?