Why it doesn’t matter that Russia withdrew from the ICC

Madison Simon, Contributing Writer

President of Russia Vladimir Putin withdrew the country from the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Nov. 16. The ICC is an international tribunal located in The Hague in the Netherlands which is intended to prosecute international war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is known globally as the “court of last resort.” Putin has withdrawn amidst talk of investigation of his air strikes on Syria as well as the annexation of Crimea.

Critics of his actions worry that Putin’s move to withdraw, Brexit, and new American President-elect Donald Trump’s rhetoric about leaving several international agreements may be the beginning of a degradation of international organizations. At least in the case of Russia and the ICC, these worries may be useless.

Though Russia joined the ICC in 2000, the Kremlin never ratified the document. The document, therefore, was never binding for Russia. In an American context, this signature is equivalent to Obama’s signature on the Paris Agreements, only to find that Congress could not rally around its support. The United States has also signed on to the ICC, but under the Bush administration, Congress never ratified and had “no intention” of doing so. The court has seen fewer than two dozen cases since its inception in 1998. Any crimes against humanity that Russia has committed would not have seen a verdict before the withdrawal, given the lengthy bureaucratic dawdle that tends to afflict institutions like such. Additionally, the pain and suffering of the populations at risk would not be lessened by a trial.

“Membership of the Rome Statute [ICC] is a voluntary and sovereign decision which is the prerogative of all states,” ICC Spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah said, a stance which is quite literally written into the ICC agreement. A country is only forced to comply with the ICC if they are a party, and any country can choose to exit the agreement at any time. The court itself is therefore not nearly as compulsory as it may appear to the global public. Additionally, this is not the only judicial body for international crimes, given that it is a separate entity from the United Nations.

The ICC also has a controversial reputation. The court has prosecuted several heads of state, inciting reason for contention. South Africa left the ICC claiming that the court conflicts with its own domestic policy, which gives heads of state diplomatic immunity. In October 2016, Gambia announced its withdrawal from the ICC claiming that bias against Africa exists within the court. In the end, this decision to withdraw appears to be a way for Putin to ruffle feathers within the international community, as he sees an opportunity to increase Russia’s influence.

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