Following the disaster of World War One, American President,Woodrow Wilson, promoted a vision of internationalcooperation and justice through his FourteenPoints and the establishment of a League of Nations. The League, as we know, failed, and the world was treated to World War Two.
In the wake of that war, a precedent was set whenthe Allies — Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the U.S. — decided to put members of the Axis powers — originally applied to Nazi-Germany and Fascist Italy, later Japan — on trial for war crimes.
Granted, this was more victor’s justice than an exercise in international law, but the idea of holding people accountable to the world at large for their actions was a step in the right direction.
The United Nations (UN) was also formed following WWII, bringing another level of order and justice to a world quickly growing beyond the confines of nation states and narrow regional limits. Alongwith the UN came international organizations formed to deal with a wide range of issues, and international courts struck to deal specificallywith such things as the war crimes in the Balkansand Rwanda.
In 1948 and 1949, conventions were signed in Geneva, Switzerland, establishing international rules for warfare, and outlawing torture and genocide. A Universal Declaration Of Human Rights was also issued at that time.
What was missing from all of these progressiveactions taken in the aftermath of WWII was apermanent, international legal body withjurisdiction to pursue individual violators ofinternational law and bring them to justice underinternational standards whenever nationalstandards or actions might fall short.
In 1998 an agreement was reached in Rome, Italy,known as the Rome Statute. Its purpose to create a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC). It wasinitialed by 139 countries and would be broughtinto existence when 60 nations had ratified it.This process was expected to take over ten years.
In April, 2002 the number reached sixty-six and the court wasactivated on July 1, of this year. It is expectedto take a year to have the court ready withthe election of eighteen judges and a prosecutor.
The good news is that Canada has been a prominentplayer in the formation of the ICC and was one ofthe early signatories. Most major nationshave also signed, including the United Kingdom, New Zealand,Australia and (most of) Europe.
The bad news is the United States, an early supporter, has under the leadership of President George W.Bush, turned its back on international justice andcooperation and withdrawn from the agreement.
Even worse, the U.S. Congress has proposedlegislation making American service members, not only exempt from the jurisdiction of the court, but that country reserves the right to useany means necessary to free American persons being heldby the court.
Recently, U.S. response to the establishment of thecourt, after pressure to kill it failed, has beento threaten to withdraw its peacekeeping forcesfrom around the world, unless they are specificallyexempted from the jurisdiction of the court. TheU.S. is also threatening to withhold militaryassistance from any country that has ratified thetreaty.
Not only is the Bush administration destroying thelegacy of the WWII generation, it is moving Americanforeign policy back into the 19th Century.
Prior to World War One it was not uncommonfor great powers, including the U.S. and theEuropean nations, to force the doctrine of extra-territoriality upon other countries, such as China,when treaties were signed. This doctrine heldthat foreign citizens in the host country were notsubject to the law of the land, only to that oftheir own country. It put them above the law.
This is the same arrogant anddestructive attitude the Bushadministration is now adopting in its approach tothe rest of the world.
Perhaps when the U.S. President speaksabout the axis of evil, he should take a good lookin the mirror.