A global community may need international courts, but it is difficult for those justice systems to remain free from power influences, according to research by David Bosco, assistant professor of international politics and author of a new book about the International Criminal Court.
“To be an ethical global community that upholds certain standards, we need to have a system of international justice,” Bosco said.
“What interested me was the question of how one goes about implementing an international justice system when there are disparities between states and power politics and power realities.”
Bosco, who writes the Multilateralist blog for Foreign Policy, interviewed more than one hundred diplomats, court officials and senior government officers – both on and off the record – during his three years of research for Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics, published by Oxford University Press. In particular, he was curious about the court’s relationship with non-members, including the United States, China, India, and Russia.
“The United States under the Bush administration was very hostile to the court. I think there was hope the court could be killed in the cradle,” Bosco said. “But over the past decade the United States has accommodated itself to the court, realizing it’s an institution that’s going to be here.”
By way of example, he noted that when the court was asked to investigate criminal acts alleged during the war in Darfur, the United States made no effort to block the move.
“The United States didn’t want to be seen as seeming to oppose international justice,” Bosco said. “You’ve seen a real evolution that shows the power, not just of the court itself but of the idea of justice.”
At the same time, he said the International Criminal Court has worked to forge good relationships with non-member states.
“One of the ways they’ve done that is by being extremely careful about taking on cases or investigations that get close to the strategic interests of major powers,” he explained. “Instead, every single investigation has been in Africa. The court has avoided situations like Afghanistan, Palestine, and the Russia-Georgia conflict.
“Of course, officials don’t say this is a strategy, but the evidence is very strong,” added Bosco, who is also the author of Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World, a history of the UN Security Council.