A rather remarkable development in the ongoing saga of U.S. relations with the International Criminal Court emerged from a press conference in Nairobi today.
Speaking in the Kenyan capital, Stephen Rapp, the U.S. ambassador at-large for war crimes, said that he will lead an American delegation to a meeting of ICC member states in The Hague later this week. Since the United States is not a member of the ICC, Rapp and his team will officially participate as observers, but Rapp said unabashedly, "Our government has now made the decision that Americans will return to engagement at the ICC.”
The United States has had a tumultuous relationship with the ICC since its founding in 1998 at an international conference in Rome. Initially supportive of the concept of an international court charged with holding the world’s worst human rights abusers to account, the United States shied away from fully ratifying the treaty over concern that U.S. service members might be liable. Rapp reiterated this concern today, citing worries about “politically-inspired prosecutions,” but said that the U.S. is ready to engage with the ICC – “to ensure that in places where there are no other avenues for accountability that it will be an effective instrument for ensuring that individuals are brought to justice.”
While the Obama administration is careful to note that a U.S. decision to join the ICC is still a long way off, Rapp and other top administration officials, including Secretary of State Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, acknowledge that there is much to do to advance international justice efforts in the meantime.
On that note, if you haven’t already seen the excellent documentary The Reckoning, do. There are a slew of screenings coming up in the next few weeks, and details are available here. Tracing the first years of the Court from HQ to the scenes of investigations in Uganda and Congo and featuring some of its dynamic judges, advocates, and critics, the film was an Official Selection at Sundance this year.
Photo: The International Criminal Court in The Netherlands