Monday, December 6, 2010

ICC to Investigate North Korea: A Step Toward International Justice

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, just announced that the court would investigate possible crimes committed by North Korea in its recent attacks on South Korea (click here to read the story: The prosecutor's office is looking into the November 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, as well as into the sinking of the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, in March of this year. Several people have died in both of these incidents, and the ICC is investigating possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by North Korea during these excursions against South Korea.
The ICC is the only permanent international criminal court in the world. It has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide (the crime of aggression may be added to the court's jurisdiction starting in 2017). Cases may be initiated at the ICC though a United Nations Security Council referral, through a member state referral, or sua sponte, by the prosecutor's office. The court can look at a case if either of two conditions is met: if the alleged crimes were committed on the territory of a member state, or if the accused is a national of a member state. The case against North Korea satisfies all the conditions of the court's jurisdiction: the alleged crimes fall within two of the three categories of crimes that the ICC can look into (war crimes and crimes against humanity); the case was initiated by Mr. Moreno-Ocampo's office; and the alleged crimes were committed in South Korea, a party to the ICC statute.
It is uncertain whether the court will proceed with this investigation. The ICC faces numerous political roadblocks and at times the ill will of one of the world's super powers, the United States. The initiation of a possible investigation into North Korea is a positive step for the court nonetheless. It demonstrates a willingness on behalf of the prosecutor's office to launch independent investigations, free of any Security Council influence and unaffected by any individual member state's referral. It signals to the world community the availability of this forum for prosecutions of international crimes, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Moreover, it sends a deterrent message to rogue countries and leaders that the ICC means business. This is a welcome development in the world of international criminal law - the world criminal court is accomplishing its mission and actively working toward its goals of world justice.

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