[Carsten Stahn is Professor of International Criminal Law and Global Justice at Leiden University and Programme Director of the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies. He is Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Leiden Journal of International Law, Executive Editor of the Criminal Law Forum and project leader of the Jus Post Bellum Project.]
International Criminal Justice is a tipping point. It is a bit like a scene in Woody Allen’s “Match Point” movie. The ball is in the air. It has hit the net. But it cannot quite decide where to go. It may tip to the one corner of the field, or the other.
There has been a lot of support for international criminal justice in past decades. The EU has been crucial in this regard. But there is also backlash and critique. Some wonder what’s the point of international courts and tribunals. The international community is good at creating new treaties and new institutions. But it seems to be less good at devoting long-term attention and resources that are necessary to ensure that they are effective. Once a new institution is created, there is a feeling the job is done and that is time to move on.
After the ICC withdrawals, the question of the justification of international criminal justice is more acute than ever. Some might claim that the withdrawals are a sign that international criminal justice becomes more effective since it targets power politics. Other might say that we need to go back to the drawing board and reflect more critically on the foundations of our assumptions. Both arguments appear to have a grain of truth.
One crucial question is the role of regional organizations in international criminal justice. After the end of the Cold War, institutional development has quickly shifted from domestic to universal approaches. The role of regional institutions has long remained at the periphery. Recently, much attention has been devoted to regionalization in the context of African critiques of international criminal justice, and the Malabo Protocol. While the Protocol has many problems (e.g., in relation to crime base, complementarity or immunities), there seems to be at least some support for the general assumption that regionalism can have benefits for international criminal justice enforcement. Such advantages include geographical proximity to crimes, and the ability to reflect specific regional interests or priorities. In existing doctrine, some attention has been devoted to the role of regional human rights courts as “quasi-criminal jurisdictions”. But there are relatively few explorations of the role of the EU as actor in international criminal justice.
The EU counts undoubtedly among the strong champions of international criminal justice on the international plane. One of its unique strengths is that it has achieved some “unity in diversity”. All 27 EU member states are states to the ICC Statute. This allows EU members to act as a collective entity.
EU support for the project of international criminal justice cuts across institutions. The Council has enacted multiple legal instruments to strengthen national investigation and prosecution of mass atrocity crimes. Initiatives, such as the European Arrest Warrant, the European Evidence Warrant, the Framework Decision on the freezing of property and evidence, and the Framework Decision on the standing of victims in Criminal Proceedings, or the European Network of Contact Points are relatively unique on the international plane.
The EU was the first regional organization to sign an agreement on cooperation and assistance with the ICC in 2006. The European Parliament has been a strong supporter of international justice. Europeans have taken a lion’s share in the funding of international criminal justice. This is complemented by the important work of Eurojust, and of course, the broader network of the Council of Europe which extends beyond EU Member States.
The main achievements from a macro perspective are in my view two-fold.
First, European institutions have forged a certain alignment of normative preferences within the European legal space. This is an important achievement. Hardly any other regional bloc has gained a similar level of convergence, and approximation of national approaches. Decisions under the Justice and Home Affairs Pillar have prompted various member States, like Belgium, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands and Sweden to establish “specialized units” for the investigation and prosecution of international crimes. EU member states score high in terms of implanting legislation. This suggests a positive correlation between EU membership and commitment to international criminal justice. The European Area of Freedom, Security and Justice remains imperfect. The EU can do better in terms of strategic coordination. Some domestic jurisdictions feel that developments are so dynamic that it is difficult to keep up with the pace of transformation. But the degree of cooperation defies comparison.
Second, EU approaches have significantly contributed to “damage control” at the international level. Without the support of European countries, the ICC might have never seen the day in its current form. In the early years of the Court, the EU has taken a strong counter approach towards US policies towards international criminal justice. US approaches have navigated between objection under the Bush Administration to “smart power” approaches under Obama administration.
The EU has differed fundamentally. It has openly discarded US objections in a common position in 2003, while trying to foster a constructive partnership between the US and the ICC. The EU has defined guiding principles for bilateral non-surrender agreements under Art. 98 of the ICC Statute. Later, the EU members have been instrumental in securing Security referrals to the ICC in relation to Darfur and Libya, and supporting a Syria referral.
The EU approach may be characterized by three cardinal features: (i) “principled” pragmatism, (ii) non-confrontational approaches, and (iii) a long-term vision towards international justice. These are virtues that are key to the success of international criminal justice.
In times like these, the EU serves more than ever as a fire brigade. Damage control is urgently needed. The voices of European members on the Security Council are crucial to avoid action that might hamper existing institutions. There is a need to speak up against unfair critique, and to counter false rhetoric. (more…)