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Universal Jurisdiction in the 21st Century
Sarah Kuck, 16 Jan 09
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The 21st century could be the time when we decide upon a solution that will bring justice those who commit crimes against humanity.

A growing global desire and the increasing potential capacity to punish those who commit heinous crimes started to take shape after World War II. With their mantra as "never again," members of the United Nations General Assembly began negotiations to form the world's first international court.

After decades of debate, the United Nations General Assembly put forth a treaty, which created the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 2002. Approximately 108 states are members of the court, and about 40 states have signed but not ratified the treaty.

India, China, Russia and the United States are among those who have not signed. Although Clinton signed the treaty on his way out of office, President George W. Bush withdrew the signature.

In an opinion piece for the International Herald Tribune, Roger Cohen commented on how this impacted U.S. international relations, and what a new administration, such as Obama's, could mean for the ICC:

This remarkable, and gleeful, "un-signing" was followed by an aggressive campaign to oblige countries to make a formal commitment, under threat of U.S. reprisals, never to surrender U.S. citizens to the court.

Former Republican Congressman Tom DeLay caught the snarling Bush-Cheney view of the institution when he referred to a "kangaroo court" that was a "clear and present danger" to Americans fighting the war on terror.
As a result, I can think of no better place for President-elect Barack Obama to start signaling a changed American approach to the world, and particularly its European allies, than the ICC. Even short of American membership, which would involve a tough battle in Congress, there is much he can do. But "re-signing" followed by ratification should be Obama's aim.
The effect of U.S. rejection of the court, combined with the trashing of habeas corpus at Guantánamo Bay, has been devastating. Allies from Canada to Germany that are court members have been dismayed by the U.S. dismissal of an institution they see doing evident good.
Obama should now confront U.S. responsibility, and signal a new commitment to multilateralism, in his attitude toward the court. After the terrible decade of the 1990s, with its genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda and the loss there of a million lives while the United States and its allies dithered, it is unconscionable that America not stand with the institution that constitutes the most effective legal deterrent to such crimes.

Universal Jurisdiction is vital for the creation of a just global society. Simply signing and ratifying a treaty will of course not instantly bring peace and justice to all, but the action would carry heavy significance none the less. I think Alex Steffen said it well when he wrote that "Universal Jurisdiction may not save us from the crazies, but it will weaken their rule and make them think twice - for them, somewhere, always, the gavel will be hanging in mid-air."

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