25 Nov Let’s Be Real: An International Anti-Corruption Court Would Never Work
I only recently learned about an effort by U.S. anti-corruption crusaders to win support for an “International Anti-Corruption Court” modeled on the International Criminal Court. US judge Mark Wolf from Massachusetts is spearheading this idea, especially with this article here, and a briefing was even held recently on Capitol Hill on the idea and the UN Human Rights Commissioner seems interested. This is troubling since I presume these folks have other things to do and this whole IACC idea seems like a colossal waste of time.
I don’t disagree with Judge Wolf that corruption is a huge problem, and that it needs to be punished. But I am baffled as to why he thinks creating an international court modeled on the ICC is a useful way to proceed.
Any justification of an International Anti-Corruption Court is almost certainly based on the idea that an IACC could more credibly deter corruption among government officials than national laws could on their own. As a theoretical matter, I suppose that is possible.
But, as the ICC has discovered, acquiring custody of government officials whom national governments are unwilling and unable to punish, but willing to grab and turn over, is really, really, hard. Because relying on member states to turn over their own people is the primary (even exclusive) way an international court can acquire custody, it has always been puzzling to me that folks believed the ICC would provide much additional deterrence to potential criminal defendants. Getting other member states to turn over defendants who escape to their jurisdiction is a bit easier, but not much.
I just don’t see any reason to think an IACC system would work better. Indeed, it would probably deter far less since it will also be overwhelmed with complaints (everyone thinks their local government guy is corrupt). There is also various tricky questions of sovereign immunity, which seem more plausibly waiveable for serious international crimes than for even high-level corruption.
So my message to Judge Wolf: The world doesn’t need another high-profile well-intended but largely ineffectual international court. We have plenty of those already, thank you.