History Repeating

Foto: sxc.hu

I visited the International Criminal Court in The Hague for my professional seminar in the Netherlands, inherently trying to compare it to the four previous visits, especially to the ones at the other international criminal tribunals such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia.

Looking back and analyzing my expectations at the first visit and comparing them to my present perspective on things, after having been acquainted to all these institutions, I would definitely say that I embarked on this experience with a fairly more naïve approach on international justice.

I somehow expected these institutions that I had heard and read so much about to be the true peace wardens that I had pictured them to be. I might be biased by my inborn intolerance to injustice and impunity, but since we are boasting with leaving in a 21st century society, completely modern and technologically endowed, I had supposed that people were bettering not only the material side but also their social awareness and the relations between them. That after all the wars and man-induced disasters that humanity had to face we had learned our lesson and our keenness of not repeating the same mistakes was stronger. Regrettably, history always seems to be repeating itself.

I can say that I enjoyed the visit to the ICC. It provided the final piece of the puzzle, the one that I needed in order to have a broader view on how international judicial mechanisms work. Of how law is enforced and how relations between states work. I can truly say that, as rewarding as the readings about the ICTY, the ICC or ICJ may be for a person’s basic knowledge; the actual presence at their premises is a totally different and enriching experience.

Even though the answers that we get to some of our questions bear traceable elements of PR, it is still a valuable insight that we couldn’t have obtained otherwise; it is the simple fact of sitting face to face with people who are closer to the mechanisms that make the world as we know it work. That is something that no book or guideline will ever be able to provide.

Going beyond the broadly known information about the ICC and its activity, one of the interesting things that I found about it was related to the new elements that it has brought to international law. Including gender crimes against women on the list of codified crimes which are subjected to investigation and prosecution is a huge step for law, as it comes to fill a void that existed for too much time. As no innovation or brand new idea can succeed without previous opposition, the concept of “gender crimes” encountered serious opposition from the Arab states which are parties to the Rome Treaty. The use of the term “gender” instead of “sex”, because of its more broad meaning which encompasses both biological differences and social ones, was met with disdain by the conservative and patriarchic Arab societies in which the role of women is highly different from Western societies.

I had wondered whether their objections to the use of the term had led to a change or at least the creation of a system of reservations or provisions that would handle the different debatable aspects of the Rome Treaty. However, our fourth speaker cleared my doubts, as it seems that the law was adopted in its original form, which sets a milestone for international criminal law. This is indeed impressive and hopeful for the future of international justice. Just as interesting from the point of view of improving international judicial mechanisms is the fact that victims are represented at international level and, to some extent, they can even lodge appeals. Although cost-engaging, this brings people closer to the law and gives them the chance to voice their opinions in the right way to have them heard.

An interesting and endlessly debatable aspect of the ICC is certainly the reluctance of the United States in signing the Rome Treaty and becoming a state-party. What had shocked me at first, while reading about this issue, was the assertiveness of the US officials in claiming that “having our American citizens, especially the members of the armed forces, indicted and tried by other than American judges would be unacceptable”. On one hand, this would mean undermining the credibility and the impartiality of the Court (even more, after finding out from our speaker that the US has actively contributed to refining some aspects of the Rome Treaty) and on another hand, it would mean setting different standards for countries, according to their levels of power. Roughly, this could be interpreted as selective justice. Big powers get the easy way out and have a chance at deciding their own fate, while smaller ones are compelled to fully comply with the letter of the law.

What astonishes me is how the world’s biggest democracy can serenely make claims regarding the honesty of its people and of the fact that American citizens are unable to commit any crimes, yet fail to accept the jurisdiction of an International Court to the creation of which it had even contributed. The most dangerous thing for international law is this setting of a double-standard in judging people, when justice is supposed to be equally applicable to everyone.

I had been disappointed with the Romanian judicial system, which still has a long way to go until becoming fully unbiased by personal interests and immune to financial incentives. At times, I was outraged with the impunity of people just on terms of their financial or social power, which might be among the reasons that boosted my hopeful feelings regarding these international courts. I was anticipating that international law still had an unprejudiced seam. It seems however that the international environment is merely a large-scale representation of the low-scale injustices that take place everyday in most countries.

From this viewpoint, my overall impression of the ICC is that there is still a high degree of uncertainty floating in the air, partially nourished by the world powers unable to harmonize their interests. “Crime of aggression” is still a vaguely defined concept, due to political aspects and 80% of the communications from people trying to raise awareness regarding committed crimes fall outside jurisdiction because they “lack the gravity threshold that would trigger the court’s jurisdiction”.

I cannot help not thinking if it wouldn’t be preferable to prevent the committing of crimes in their incipient state rather than to desperately try to stop them when they start plaguing the society. How can someone establish a “threshold” for the gravity of the crimes? Do lives of human beings, pain and suffering fall within a measurement scale? And, more importantly, can we really know what is the borderline between “not enough” and “too much” when it comes to people’s lives?

On the train back from The Hague, I tried to reach at least a preliminary conclusion to what I had experienced in these two months with the Professional Seminar visits, to draw a line and sum up my moral victories and defeats, my expectations and my outcomes. I thought to what Dr.Suransky had told us, about the way we could do something to improve the present state of things. The only thing that I can think of is strongly people-related; the only force that we have to change anything for the future resides in people’s consciousness of their mistakes and on the honest desire of not reiterating them. I do believe that we have reached a crossroads in our world history, a moment in which we have to look deep inside ourselves and figure out what is the right path to follow, since the borderline between the good and the bad seems to have become barely noticeable.

Those were my last thoughts, on my way back from The Hague. With my iPod turned on, I couldn’t help not thinking whether I am too idealistic in my wish of doing something to change and better the world. Whether the world really wants to be changed. The only echo that I found for my thoughts was in a song that I deem just as idealistic as my perspective on life, and whose lyrics I wrote below.

As I listened to it and watched The Hague drift away, I tried to provide myself with a conclusion that would serve as a closure for the first stage of my experience. I don’t know if I found it; what I know for sure is that I am going to keep hoping and acting for this world’s change for the better, even if I will only be able to induce an infinitesimally small change. It would be still a place to start. And that is the best I can possibly do.

“Gazing through the window at the world outside
Wondering will mother earth survive
Hoping that mankind will stop abusing her, sometime…
After all, there’s only just a few of us
And here we are still fighting for our lives
Watching all of history repeat itself, time after time…”

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