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World Government and the International Criminal Court

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There is at present no such thing as a world government. But what, for a long time, was considered to be its antithesis, namely strong national sovereignty, has been considerably eroded. That erosion has taken many forms, but what has been one of the most interesting has been the establishing of an International Criminal Court. The ICC of course cannot work without a substantial degree of compliance on the part of largely autonomous nations. But domestic courts too cannot work without a substantial degree of compliance on the part of those over whom they claim jurisdiction. In the case of most domestic legal systems there is such compliance—secured, no doubt, by various means. Whether there is such compliance in the case of the ICC is, at best, unclear, and the ICC, along with other erosions of national sovereignty, should perhaps be considered an experiment whose outcome is not yet known. My purpose in this paper is to suggest that, whatever may be true about the practicalities, we should in principle welcome at least this particular erosion of national sovereignty.

The ICC deals with “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.” It is, however, “complementary to national criminal jurisdiction” (RSICC, Article 1). and most of those who have been punished for the crimes over which it has jurisdiction have been prosecuted by their own courts, or courts set up by an occupying authority after a war. Despite the largely woeful record of local courts in prosecuting their own war criminals, that war crimes trials should be carried out in this way is no doubt, at present, the default presumption. But we need to be clear about what generates this presumption, and what follows from it.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

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