Does Mitt Romney Want the U.S. to Join the ICC?

by Julian Ku

U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney has joined a growing public movement to “indict” Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for incitement to commit genocide against Israelis. In his letter to the U.N. Secretary General from last week (and developed more here), Romney writes,

If President Ahmadinejad sets foot in the United States, he should be handed an indictment under the Genocide Convention. This approach has been called for by experts as diverse as Nobel Prize Winner Elie Wiesel, human-rights advocate and former Canadian Minister Of Justice Irwin Cotler, former Ambassador John Bolton, and law professor Alan Dershowitz.

Is Romney serious? Putting aside the hard legal question of whether Ahmadinejad’s statements constitute an incitement to genocide under the Genocide Convention, what nation, international institution, or court is supposed to indict him?

It seems clear that the ICC does not have jurisdiction because Iran has not yet ratified the ICC Statute.

The U.S. government can’t prosecute him under the Genocide Convention Implementation Act , because this act is limited to offenses committed within the U.S. or offenses committed by U.S. nationals.

There are two other possibilities: First, Romney may be calling for the U.N. Security Council to refer the case to the ICC Chief Prosecutor, who would certainly then have jurisdiction to indict Ahmadinejad. I don’t think this is what he is saying, and if it is, he may be the most friendly Republican to the ICC in the presidential field.

Second, and more likely, Romney may be endorsing the idea of bringing an application or “civil” suit against Iran in the International Court of Justice under the Genocide Convention. (I think this is what he means, based on this old 2006 Guardian article). But that “suit” would most likely have to be brought by Israel, and not the U.S. or the U.N. (And it would take so long to get to the merits that Romney could be elected in 2008 and out of office in 2012 before a judgment is released)

Most importantly, it would not be an indictment. I think the confusion was started by this 2002 op-ed from Human Rights Watch entitled “Indict Saddam” even though it was mostly about a similar ICJ lawsuit under the Genocide Convention.

Should Romney be forced to reveal which of these options he really wants to pursue? Yes. Each particular approach should reveal something more substantial about his policy preferences and attitudes toward international institutions. And he shouldn’t be allowed to use loose and imprecise language that gives the impression he wants to do something meaningful without revealing exactly what he wants to do. Of course, he is a candidate for the U.S. presidency, and using loose and imprecise language (see, e.g, George W. circa 2000 and Hillary C. circa 2007) is exactly how one gets elected to that office.

4 Responses

  1. Upon rereading Mitt Romney’s letter to the UN, I do not think he is concerned about legal niceties. Essentially, action should be taken because he said so.

    Romney does not refer to recent congressional declarations or even US foreign policy, but on his letterhead he calls for this action. Because he cites US responses should the UN fail to do what he wants, he is actually making a demand using the power of the United States. That is, he is warning or threatening the use of US government actions while still a private citizen.

    Moreover, the vague reference to indictment may be referring to some sort of arrest, an action that will help establish in the minds of many the sovereignty of the UN over the US.

    Should the UN fail to do what he wants, he will build something that will.

    Those actions might be considered violations of the Logan Act. However, in my mind they are worse.

  2. Julian,

    Although I agree with you that Romney is probably thinking of the ICJ, there is another criminal option: prosecution by a state whose domestic law does — unlike the US’s — provide for universal jurisdiction over genocide. That list includes (among many others) Germany, Belgium, Canada, and New Zealand.

  3. “he may be the most friendly Republican to the ICC in the presidential field.” I have thought that this description would go to John McCain: “I want us in the ICC” here

    Or have something changed? Can anyone update me on that, please?

  4. Isn’t Romney the same genius who made this statement:

    In France, for instance, I’m told that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms where either party may move on when their term is up. How shallow and how different from the Europe of the past.

    In light of that and other statements, I see little reason to believe he has the vaguest idea what the hell he’s talking about at any given moment.

    I suppose he’s catering to the demographic that regretted that Dan Quale never ran for President.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. There are no trackbacks or pingbacks associated with this post at this time.