Isn't It Time We Rejoin the World Court? (We Left in 1986)
Mr. Meyer, civil rights historian (author of The Amendment that Refused to Die), is a former Special Assistant the U.S. Attorney General and member of the American Society of International Law. He recently published a history of the ICJ and U.S. relations with it: The World Court in Action: Judging Among the Nations (Rowman and Littlefield, 2002).
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This self-made exemption from the Rule of Law will seem especially hypocritical as U.S. officialdom plans an international criminal tribunal to place former Iraqi leaders on trial.
This recent isolation of America from global criminal law has received considerable attention. Not so the persistent American refusal to accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), created largely by American efforts. The ICJ, also based at The Hague, has always been known semi-officially and in popular parlance as the "World Court."
The new criminal court can only deal with crimes allegedly perpetrated by individuals. The role of the ICJ is confined to disputes between or among nation-states and such legal questions as may be raised by international organizations.
The location of the two quite separate courts at The Hague and superficial similarity of their roles have resulted in persistent confusion as to their identity. That confusion has been compounded by the ignorance (or laziness) of headline writers who for the sake of its brevity called the criminal tribunal the "World Court" even before it began to work.
When even minor disputes between nations are settled at the ICJ, there is a gain in the removal of potential irritants that can worsen relations. Some cases present issues so important that the Court's potential role as arbiter can be a significant factor in preserving peace.
The protest at U.S. exemption of individuals from criminal jurisdiction has been widely reported. The continued refusal of the United States to subject its own actions, especially the use of force against others, to judgment by the ICJ has been treated as a non-event.
The president who turned America's back on judgment under international law was Ronald Reagan. His action resulted from fear (especially after prominent condemnation by Senators Barry Goldwater and Daniel Patrick Moynihan) of an adverse Court ruling in Nicaragua's case against the U.S. Reagan withdrew American acceptance of mandatory jurisdiction that had been filed forty years earlier by President Truman, with unanimous support of the Senate.
Republican representative Jim Leach of Iowa led opposition to President Reagan's action terminating consent to World Court jurisdiction. He said of the action of the president (put into office by his party) that "it lowers the United States to the level of international scofflaw it symbolizes a retreat from support for the concept of international adjudication that dates back to the last century." (Hearing, House Subcomm. International Affairs Oct 30, 1985)
Others agreed. Paul Simon, then senator from Illinois, in an Op-Ed in the New York Times, decried the self-inflicted wound to U S prestige. When the U.S. vetoed an otherwise unanimous Security Council call for U S compliance with the Court's ruling in the Nicaragua case, the L A Times editor's headline was "World Scofflaw"
The Gorbachev regime reversed in 1998 a history of eight decades of Soviet boycott of the Court and its predecessor. The U.S. Congress acted in response. In the 1990 Foreign Relations Authorization Act there was included a call for "efforts to broaden, where appropriate the compulsory jurisdiction and enhance the effectiveness of the ICJ."
There was no action taken to implement this by President G.W.H. Bush, father of the incumbent. Fifteen years earlier as U S ambassador to the U N, the earlier President Bush had officially declared in response to a U.N. survey:
The United States firmly believes that a strong and active international Court
is a central and indispensable
element of an international legal order. Prevention of the use or threat of force to settle international disputes is essential to the maintenance of international security and is most effectively assured by the development of an international legal order and resort to a strong and respected Court.
In July 1993, a congressionally created U.S. Commission on Improving the Effectiveness of the United Nations gave attention to the ICJ. It endorsed compulsory jurisdiction and recommended "to set a standard of leadership, the U.S. consider reaccepting the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court. No response from President Clinton.
During a wide-ranging policy overview conducted in 1994 by the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senator Christopher Dodd raised "the issue of the World Court" and said: "I think it is sad indeed that we have withdrawn ourselves from the jurisdiction of that Court. The Cold War is over. I think it important that we re-engage." Secretary of State Warren Christopher responded that he agreed. By his silence, President Clinton did not.
That was about the last time public reference was made to U.S. refusal to accept compulsory jurisdiction. The individuals and groups previously concerned seemed to have abandoned the cause.
Some had given up. Others were engaged in a new issue that had begun to seem urgent by the nineties of the 20th Century: They were distracted by the impact of the savage cruelties during the hostilities that marked the years following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. They were appalled by the scale of the genocide in Rwanda. Demands to "do something" impacted national leaders and they turned to the Security Council of the United Nations for action.
The Council responded by improvising temporary international criminal courts to try and punish criminal violation of human rights in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
This was not a new idea. Most well known early proposal was the call to "Hang the Kaiser," that was heard after the First World War. Intermittently discussed thereafter among publicists and in law reviews, the notion of criminal trials for war guilt was put into effect in temporary tribunals that sat in Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II.
To achieve such a result on a temporary basis seemed enough and nothing was done at the San Francisco conference that created the United Nations and the ICJ.
In the last years of the twentieth century, the idea of an international criminal court became something of a cause. There came into being an "NGO Coalition for an International Criminal Court" that attracted many who had been supporters of a return to the ICJ's compulsory jurisdiction. The fruit of their efforts, joined by statesmen from several nations, was the Rome Conference of 1998 and the Treaty for a criminal tribunal of general international jurisdiction.
This was the Court-to-be that was spurned by the Bush Administration. Not only that! So abhorrent was the thought of such a Court that Secretary Powell's State Department launched an international drive directed against vulnerable nations, seeking to have them abstain from joining and withdraw if they had; moreover some were persuaded to agree even to refuse extradition of alleged criminals.
That the Bush administration thus has not only refused to submit to the criminal tribunal, but is actively seeking to torpedo it, has been considered reprehensible. This has sorely disappointed those who believe that crimes against humanity should not go unpunished.
But President Bush cannot be fairly faulted for failing to return the United States to support an International legal system, such as was advocated by his father; one presided over, as the first president Bush urged, by a court to adjudge among the nations.
He was not asked to do so and, not having been reminded, probably never gave it any thought.
On May 11, 2003 Theodore Sorenson, President Kennedy's chief speechwriter, delivered the commencement address at American University in Washington, DC. In his speech he called the decision to withdraw from the World Court in 1986 a "mistake," adding:
The World Court, established after World War I, to move disputes between nations from the battlefield to the courtroom, merits our full support. We must avoid a world in which any nation can decide on its own whether it has grounds to attack its neighbor, or seize its neighbor's resources. This country has both a history and an obligation of leadership in international jurisprudence. In today's unpromising, unpredictable, unruly world, stronger institutions of international justice would make the United States a safer place.
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Alex Wright - 5/22/2004
Of course the USA is one of the world's biggest human rights violators, e.g. these are some examples since since WW2:
* killing over three million people (mostly civilians) carpet bombing Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos;
* putting Suharto in charge of Indonesia and sponsering his genocidal invasion and occupation of East Timor and massacre of Indonesian peasants;
* sponsering Israeli oppression of the Palestinians
* sposering Contra terrorism against Nicaragua's first democratically elected govt which killed over 6000, the Sandanistas and inciting Contra targeting of civilians (e.g. attacks on farms, murder, rape and torture)
* sponsering fascist Pinochet in overthrowing Chilean elected president Salvador Allende and ushering in thousands of murders
* sponsering fascist military juntas throughout Latin America during the Cold War
* sponsering Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein's aggressive war on Iran
* selling illegal chemical and biological weapons to Saddam Hussein
* murdering over 5000 civilians in Afghanistan in 2001 (compare to 3000 murdered on 9/11)
* dropping alpha-radiation emmitting depleted uranium on Serbia in 1999, and on Iraq twice (1991 and 2003)
* invading Iraq, murdering over 10,000 civilans and murdering and torturing Iraqi internees
* the deliberate targeting of civilians through aerial bombardment in almost every US war (even the "humanitarian intervention" in Serbia where TV stations were blown up--would it have been legal for another state to blow up the BBC in London or CNN in Atlanta, or to murder journalists--like when Al Qaeda beheaded a US jornalist in Pakistan)
John Studstill - 4/28/2004
Joining the World Court really should be one of our country's most urgent priorities. The U.S. under Bush is becoming a pariah state with its refusal to join other democratic nations in support of international environmental movements and of human rights actions. Why should we want to use international courts when our enemies are in the docket (Milosovic), but try to avoid having to defend our own atrocities? Why do we think the world should respect us as a leader when we behave so immaturely?
John Studstill - 4/28/2004
It is hard to admit that one's own country is a big violator of human rights, but those who refuse to look at U.S. history on that score are simply being naive or obtuse. There are many types of human rights violations, but who else has overturned as many governments with covert plots or helped assassinate as many leaders? Lumbumba, Mossadeq, Allende, the govts. of Guatemala, of Iraq, of Indonesia, the list is long. U.S. atrocities in the Mexican-American war, the takeover of the Philippines, etc. The British and the French in their many colonial wars were perhaps even more brutal, the Russians in their repression of rights and overthrough of anti-communist regimes have done the same. The point of the article is not that the U.S. has been any worse, but that we have been just as bad as many other human rights violators and certainly in recent times one of the worst, maybe just because we have the power to do so, but let's at least be honest about our poor record, and stop pretendting to be so much more virtuous than everyone else.
Chad Rock Ph.D - 3/23/2004
The US is one of the LARGEST violators of human rights. These violations thankfully don't occur on our soil because we ar the most internally free society in the world. Just because we are free doesn't mean this country doesn't commit human rights violations on par with Cuba, Sudan, Zimbabwe or the Congo. There is no coorelation between the internal freedom of a society and its external behavior (Think Rome). Think of all the mass murders we have supported and continue to support.The blood that is on the hands of Hussein (gassing the Kurds with our support), Suharto (exterminating 1/3 of the East Timorese population), the House of Saud (hideous repression against their anti-wahabi dissidents and women), the Shah (100,000), the Guatemalan security force G-2 (100,000), etc..etc.. is also on our hands. Now you can be a flag-waving hypocrite and deny our culpability in these terrorist atrocities or you can be honest and acknowledge our responsibilities. America isn't just as much a terrorist state as Iran; it is far worst!
Chad Rock Ph.D - 3/23/2004
Where the hell are you getting this? who said the US "is responsible for just about every human rights violation, crime and massacre ever committed since the dawn of history"? No one said the US is the only state in human history to commit mass murder. Oh, if we "screwed up pretty badly", so did Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot (whom we supported after Vietnam drove him from power and terminated his genocide), and Hussein. Why should anyone talk about their atrocities? Don't we all "screw up pretty badly" every now and then? ;)
J. Caramello - 10/22/2003
I am in awe. After reading your posts I discovered that The United States is responsible for just about every human rights violation, crime and massacre ever committed since the dawn of history. I am shocked and appalled that such an evil entity can exist. The United States bears sole responsibility for such horrors as the Crusades, the Black Death, the inquisition (all of them starting in 1231 by our then Secrtary of State Pope Gregory IX). Get a grip, you people sound like a gaggle of lunatics. Granted we have screwed up pretty badly in the past, but please I don't think that we qualify as the anti-christ just yet.
Terry Brennan - 9/30/2003
If you have time please read my letter to the Prime Minister of Australial.
Terrence G. Brennan - 8 Oxley Drive Holland Park Brisbane Qld
4121Phone 07 –33943328 E@mail email@example.com
The Hon John Howard MP
PO Box 336
Gladesville NSW 2111 (the only way to contact Howard is to send him a letter)
Dear Hon John Howard.
My name is Terrence Brennan and I suffer from ME/CSF, a medical condition which stopped my attending the demonstration on 16th Feb. Therefore I am writing to register my views, having listened to arguments both for and against starting a war with Iraq.
I remind you that the US has more weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems for the same than the rest of the world combined. President Bush has already stated that the US is prepared to use nuclear weapons in the event of chemical or biological attack on the US. The current President Bush considered using them to destroy caves in Afghanistan. Our American ‘partners’ used weapons or mass destruction against two cities with little military significance in Japan during WW 2. The same attack contravened the Geneva Convention by:
1. attacking civilian targets (cities)
2. killing by fire (the heat caused by nuclear fusion)
3. killing by toxins (nuclear fallout, radiation).
However, there was no Nuremberg type trial for the victors. Americans appear to fear that some other country with the same weapons, will “do onto them as they have done to others.” Currently more than half the world’s population live in nations who possess nuclear weapons. America must attack first, in order to prevent these other nations doing as they have done twice. America appears to be horrified by the prospect of non Americans coping their actions. America uses international law to justify an attack, when it suits. Should international law not oblige, they attack anyway. They are illegally attacking Iraq because the latter might have illegal weapons of mass destruction. They argue that the suspicion that another country may have weapons of mass destruction warrants an illegal attack. I personally feel like a German living within Germany in 1939 while Hitler declares war on Poland.
Israel has broken over one hundred United Nations decrees, mainly to do with the race motivated distinction between themselves and the Palestinians. Israel possesses nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, all of them against international law. The Israeli citizen who informed the international community of this is still in prison in permanent solitary confinement, which itself is against international law. Israel has stated plainly that it will use nuclear weapons if attacked. America did not cease its aid, in dollars or military aid, when in 1967 the Israeli military attacked the US Liberty warship in international waters, Flying the American flag, killing 34 and wounding 171. Israel attacked with torpedo boats and aircraft for 74 minutes.
At that time, Israel had or was developing nuclear weapons. There were no US reprisals and little comment as business went on as usual.
Israel is the largest recipient of American aid: $8.5 billion aus pa. Indeed, Israel with its small population is the largest recipient of aid in the world.
I realize in this current political climate that the cries of the electorate will be drowned out by American Corporate demands. Not heeding the wishes of the electorate is currently called leadership. Not being a democracy deems one worthy of physical attack by democratic countries showing leadership.
Current perceptions of what it is to be a leader in a democracy cause copycat leaders in other non democratic countries to be subject to our attacking them.
It’s not what is done, it is who does it.
If a country has national resources, mainly oil, the spot light shines brightly on any perception of misconduct. If Cambodia had massive reserves of oil, Pol Plot would not have survived very long. America would have invaded and liberated the people. No oil meant that Pol Plot was given American backing while committing genocide of over one million people. Afghanistan would not have needed to be attacked if the Taliban had not cancelled the contract for the trans-Afghanistan pipeline in 1998 with the USA Unocal Corporation. I now understand that the contract, post war, is once again current with Unocal, and Unocal’s employee is now president of Afghanistan.
God Bless America. I am unable to understand Australians’ little brother syndrome: what will be our payoff? Do we receive a cut of the loot, booty? Whose assets will America and their little brother be liberating once we finish with IRAQ? The Royal Navy in the 1860’s sent a gun boat up the Yangtze river to blast the Chinese. Why? Because the emperor of China was trying to stop England’s merchant class’ opium trade in his country. Things don’t change much, only the faces of those professing political representation for the electorate.
My compulsion to send this letter comes from my own conscience, with little belief that the above comments and statements will make the slightest policy difference. After all, you will probably continue to show your style of leadership.
For the first time in my life, I feel a profound shame in being an Australian citizen due to your government’s sending Australian soldiers to kill for oil in Iraq.
T. G. Brennan
Howard N Meyer - 8/15/2003
Hi stranger not reading you whaddya mean ?
Austin Damien - 7/30/2003
Hiii how are u doing? Like to say what a very good job u are all doing over there. Take Care.
Be Very Law Abiding
Homer Simpson - 6/2/2003
Kriz is crazy as a bedbug: "That is why a world court would find the U.S. to be the most egregious and pervasive violator of human rights on the planet."
Kriz, you are the silliest man in America.
Good for laughs, though.
Howard N Meyer - 5/30/2003
What I have seen of the responders gives the impression that they skimmed too fast or did'nt read for content. There is no
response to the points made, such as (1) desertion from -- call it secesssion -- from global law did not begin with Bush (2) that the International Court of Justice, that "judges among the nations" represented an achievement that Americans should be proud of (3) The many diverse organizations engaged in activism or advocacy on peace and freedom and human rights issues should engage in an effort to bring about U.S. acceptance of the Court
created to judge NATIONAL conduct, not merely INDIVIDUAL conduct which is the preserve of the International Criminal Court.
Bill Maher - 5/30/2003
First, did not imply that you were not disturbed by genocide in Rwanda. Simply made the observation that much of the left certainly was not interested in really doing anything to prevent it (or, for that matter, in Bosnia, etc.). You really should read A Problem From Hell.
In any case, a few quotes from that book. Pat Schroeder was a member of congress and certainly represented those who could be described as progressive constituents. "There are some groups," she observed, "terribly concerned about the gorillas. . . But - it sounds terrible - people just don't know what can be done about the people."
And then there is this interesting remark from David Rawson, the U.S. ambassador in Kigali: "We were naive policy optimists. . . The fact that negotiations can't work is almost not one of the options open to people who care about peace. We were looking for the hopeful signs, not the dark signs. In fact, we were looking away from the dark signs. . ."
Finally, the U.S. official who complained in a private journal about "a military that wants to go nowhere to do anything. . ."
So what do we have here? The memory of Somalia and Vietnam? And Clinton responds with PDD-25. It would satisfy, as Representative David Obey observed, the American desire for "zero degree of involvement, and zero degree of risk, and zero degree of pain and confusion." And both the left and the right share the blame for producing this ludicrous foreign policy statement.
Events, especially 9/11, have greatly changed the above. The problem, however, still remains. If the right is the bull in the pottery shop, the left still faces the problem described by Adam Shatz in The Nation (September 23,2002). No system of international justice can solve this internal American conflict.
Jerry West - 5/29/2003
Thomas Hagedorn wrote:
I will never favor the surrender of US sovereignty to a World Court or any other body. People from around the world have "voted with their feet" for two centuries for the freedom and opportunity that the United States offers.
People have been voting with their feet for eons, moving from one place to the other. Some came to the US as you stated, others came out of desperation, some by force and even some seeking what you prize but were turned away. Many have left too. The fact that people come to the US is no reason for the US to withdraw from the world or fail to cooperate in making all of the world a better place to live.
I thank God for the freedom and opportunity that this country offerred my oppressed Irish ancestors.
And why not cooperate to help make those freedoms univeral?
Yes, our record is marred in many ways, it is not perfect, but the ideals and, on balance, most of the performance, has been admirable.
So what? The issue is not about averaging a record, it is about removing the imperfections. What you are saying is that even though someone or country commits heinous crimes it is OK as long as they do some good things too. What the world community is saying with the ICC is let's get rid of heinous crimes.
If a world government ever takes hold, it will offer the opportunity for elitists or much worse to perpetrate unchallenged oppression.
As if that isn't happening on national scale already? Just like a national or local government, a world government will be what we make of it. The real opposition to the ICC is not about preserving democratic or human rights, it is about preserving the power of elitists in national governments who find human rights an inconvenient obstacle to their own goals.
Thomas Hagedorn - 5/29/2003
I will never favor the surrender of US sovereignty to a World Court or any other body. People from around the world have "voted with their feet" for two centuries for the freedom and opportunity that the United States offers. I thank God for the freedom and opportunity that this country offerred my oppressed Irish ancestors. Yes, our record is marred in many ways, it is not perfect, but the ideals and, on balance, most of the performance, has been admirable. If a world government ever takes hold, it will offer the opportunity for elitists or much worse to perpetrate unchallenged oppression. (What would Hitler's world or Stalin's world have looked like?)
Stephen Kriz - 5/29/2003
You are absolutely right and this mischief and treachery has occurred under both Democratic and Republican presidents. That is why a world court would find the U.S. to be the most egregious and pervasive violator of human rights on the planet. Thanks for helping me make my point...
Josh Greenland - 5/29/2003
And if I can be permitted to reach back into the 1960s and 70s, there were the I don't know how many thousands who were tortured and murdered by Augusto Pinochet, who we set up to pull a coup on the legally elected president of Chile, and the I don't know how many Vietnamese civilians who were killed and brutalized by our country's Phoenix Program and other unpleasant initiatives there, including the indiscriminate dropping of the Agent Orange defoliant. The CIA gave Saddam Hussein his start politically, and taught Osama bin Laden everything he knows in our anti-Soviet Afghan "covert" op. I understand the US has a VERY long record of installing via covert ops and supporting some of the worst human rights abusing regimes on the planet, that of Shah Reza Pahlevi of Iran being the first via the CIA in 1953. We were big supporters of Anastasia Somoza of Nicaragua, Ferdinand Marcos through almost all of his reign in the Phillipines, Shah Reza Pahlevi through all of his, and the apartheid government of South Africa until close to its end.
This is just off the top of my head. I'm sure others can add more to this partial list.
Stephen Kriz - 5/29/2003
I don't drink, but thanks anyway. How do you know I was not outraged by the slaughter in Rwanda? I am a Christian and was appalled by it. Maybe if the Republican Congress would have had the balls to speak out, Clinton might have found some too. Of course, they were too busy spinning Vince Foster's suicide into a nefarious murder mystery and looking into Bill Clinton's sex life to worry about egregious human rights violations. Their priorities are always so thoughtful.....
Stephen Kriz - 5/29/2003
You'll notice my list of human rights violations are ones perpetrated by the U.S. against foreign countries, not against it's own citizens, although expect that to pick up if Bush gets another term. Ask the widows and orphans in Afghanistan and Iraq how humane the U.S. is. Or ask the Nicaraguan widows whose husbands were shot to death with American bullets or the Indonesian peasants slaughtered by the CIA. Of course, egregious human rights violators need blind aand silent accomplices like you to survive.
Backsight Forethought - 5/29/2003
You must be kidding. The US as one of the LARGEST violators of human rights. This is a joke, right??? The US is as reprehensible (or more!!!) as, say Cuba, or Sudan, Zimbabwe, or the Congo, in the yearly human rights violation competition? Yes, I can see that. Noam Chomsky sentenced to labor in Alaska. NY Timesers Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman forced to toil on the Salt Flats. Al Gore banished to, cripes, why not Fargo, ND (no offense to Dakotans). If this is your argument, I submit you have lost your rather thin case. Writers critical of Bush are published rather regularly I would say, not tossed against the wall along with their families. I would submit that a country where people are breaking the laws to enter is rather less of a human rights violator than the country where people are breaking the laws to leave. This may be in error, but I haven't recently read of anybody departing Florida for Cuba on a home-built, make shift raft. But perhaps my vision is clouded by Reagan/Bush I / Bush II / Karl Rove / Richard Melon Scaife / Rupert Murdoch / etc. / etc. / [insert your favourite bogeyman here] / ... This absurd notion should fall beside the calumny that the US is now a fascist Bush monarchy. If it were so, HNN comment sections would be rather more agreeable to the present US government, non? Of course all American citizens are allowed to resettle in, say, Chad or Angola, or some other country which welcomes the ICC if that is a major concern in their existence. I hear there are flights daily, unless this violates the immigration laws of those countries, in which case, wouldn't that be a largish violation of human rights and the right to settlement ??? Quick. call the ICC !!
Jerry West - 5/29/2003
Not intervening in Rwanda was a mistake. But so were the activities pointed out by Kriz, as well as a number of other criminal acts that have characterized part of US foreign policy for the past half century.
The real question here is why not advance international cooperation and the rule of law. The only logical answer is because we want to be exempt from answering for our future crimes.
Its comminment to justice and democracy are less than skin deep if the US turns its back on joining the ICC and other institutions designed to expand human rights and the rule of law.
spotcash - 5/29/2003
what a crock!
Bill Maher - 5/28/2003
I would recommend that Kriz grab a cold beer, sit down with Samantha Powers' A Problem From Hell and, hopefully, learn a thing or two. For eight years folks like him had a president who did his utmost to avoid even the use of the word genocide. If not used meant that it was not taking place. And most of the left was terribly pleased. The United States, "one of the biggest violators of human rights," was the only hope for the 900,000 in Rwanda. The irony of it all has been largely ignored by the left. One can understand why. As Tom Wolfe wrote: those folks are morose, morbid to the point of gangrene . . . and quite out to lunch.
Stephen Kriz - 5/27/2003
From torturing Afghan prisoners to death at Bagram AFB to mining Nicaraguan harbors, to participating in the overthrow of the governments of Argentina, Indonesia, Iraq and many others, why would we want an international court?
We are the criminals.