Documentary maker hoping states including US and Czech Republic sign up to International Criminal Court


The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court, which has been shown in the One World film festival, focuses on the work of the permanent tribunal established in 2002 and most recently in the news for issuing an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. However, the court, based in the Hague, is not without its critics, and countries such as the US, China and Russia have not signed up. After a screening on Tuesday night, I asked the documentary’s director Pamela Yates whether there was any evidence the existence of the ICC had deterred would-be war criminals.

“When we started to make The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court I thought the film was going to be about trials, and about arrest warrants. And I very quickly began to understand that it was actually going to be much more about the effect of the court – what effect is the court having in the world? How is it trying to stop the culture of impunity?

“And I think there are some actually very measurable effects. First of all, it has brought a pretty sustained peace to Uganda, because the Lord’s Resistance Army is afraid of the ICC. They’re outside of Ugandan territory, they’re hiding in the Congo, and they’ve created some havoc in the Congo. But in northern Uganda things have been relatively peaceful.

“The court’s overseeing of paramilitary activity in Colombia is another one. Colombians are very aware that unless they impose their own rule of law, the ICC will come into their country.

“So I think it’s had in some ways a measurable and some ways an immeasurable effect in the world. And some of that has yet to be determined.”

Isn’t the ICC fatally hamstrung by the fact that it doesn’t have any kind of powers of enforcement in terms of arresting people?

“That is the International Criminal Court’s Achilles heel. But it also forces the court to build consensus among the member states. It forces them to act in the diplomatic and the international community to make sure pressure is brought on the states to arrest. Especially in the case of President al-Bashir of Sudan. The international community must come together to pressure Sudan to give up al-Bashir.”

The USA, like Russia and China isn’t a member of the ICC. The Bush administration was very much opposed to it. Do you think that under Obama that may change?

“I am really confident that our relationship to the ICC under President Obama will change. At the very least we will re-engage with the ICC. We’re going to be at the table, we’ll be at the review conference in 2010. And we will have something to say about the direction of the court.

“Hopefully also the citizens of the US will pressure our government to say, we want to be part of this court, we should be part of this court, everything we stand for is what this court stands for.”

But if the US, Russia and China don’t join, does it realistically have any kind of future?

“Absolutely. The International Criminal Court is going to operate, whether or not the United States, Russia, China or the Czech Republic join. But we hope they all will. We really need universal ratification.

“But as you see in The Reckoning, the court continues its work, it is unabated, it’s having an effect in the world. It could have a greater effect.”

The Czech Republic is the only member of the European Union not to have joined the International Criminal Court; while both houses of the country’s parliament have approved ratification, President Václav Klaus has yet to sign the document.