Sunday, December 19, 2004

The ICC proves its worth

The International Criminal Court has taken the first step towards putting Tony Blair in the dock, by beginning a formal investigation into whether the UK committed war crimes against Iraqi civilians. The investigation is a response to a formal complaint by a panel of British legal experts, who alleged that the British military had shown reckless disregard for civilian lives by using indiscriminate weapons such as cluster bombs, and had deliberately targetted civilian infrastructure such as power stations and water treatment plants.

In a letter seen by The Independent on Sunday, the chief prosecutor of the ICC in The Hague has described the war crimes allegations as "one of the most significant" cases he has seen, and were being given "deserved weight" by his investigators.

Luis Moreno Ocampo, the chief prosecutor, indicated that his office has now begun the formal process of gathering evidence about the claims and is now expected to ask the Government to explain its military strategy in Iraq.

The ICC has proved its worth with this action. Even if no charges are ever laid, the mere threat of them ought to be making some people in the British government very uncomfortable at the moment. Those who thought themselves answerable to no-one, not even the electorate (who they believed could be spun and manipulated into supporting the unsupportable), have just been given an unwelcome reminder that they are not above the law, and that they could one day be held accountable for their actions. That ought to cause them a few sleepless nights. And as a leading advocate for the ICC, Britain can hardly do a Bush and "unsign" it, or at least not without sacrificing a great deal of mana on the international stage.

But what I'm really looking forward to is the effect this will have on the wider international community. The ICC has just nailed its colours to the mast, and announced that it stands for a true international legal order, in which both powerful and powerless will be subject to the same rules, rather than simply being a partial tool of rich nations against governments who refuse to be subserviant little clients. Hopefully this will have a chilling effect, and cause governments to think twice before waging war or participating in further dubious US adventures in the future.