US President Joe Biden has quite harshly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin recently. Calling him a war criminal, he suggested that the Russian leader may be held to account for the brutal criminal acts committed in Moscow’s bloody military campaign in Ukraine. If you have been watching the news lately, I don’t think you need any further input to understand what he was talking about. Anyone can confirm that Biden’s statements are correct. In the moral sense, at least. That is, if you disregard who made these statements.
Vladimir Putin, unless Russia goes through a landslide of domestic political changes soon, is highly unlikely to be brought to any independent court (or any court at all), and the same applies to the decision makers and soldiers involved in the war on Ukraine, because Russia is not a member of the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) which therefore is unable to launch proceedings against any Russian citizen. You might wonder why it is so but seeing the ongoing war you probably don’t need any further explanation: dictatorial countries massacring their neighbours don’t tend to be members of the International Criminal Court.
Even more interestingly however, the United States, despite having signed the Rome Statute to establish the International Criminal Court, has yet failed to ratify it.
As a result, the court has absolutely no jurisdiction over US citizens, just as much as it cannot judge Russians, either. In fact, the former Trump administration even imposed visa restrictions on certain ICC judges who raised inconvenient issues.
Since the United States, unlike Russia, is a real democracy, the media soon noted how controversial Biden’s statement was: how can the US President talk about bringing another president to justice when he himself can never be held accountable in this way? The US certainly has a few chapters in its past (like the Afghan or the Iraqi war, for example) that would likely raise the issue of taking certain American decision makers to court, if Washington were to ratify the Rome Treaty on the ICC.
Nevertheless, I believe such ratification would be a necessary step both morally and politically.
When the whole world clearly sees the horrific acts that authoritarian and tyrannical regimes are capable of, the world’s leading democratic state could send a very powerful message by no longer keeping itself out of international criminal jurisdiction.
If the US doesn’t take this step, the words of President Biden and other western leaders may easily become nothing but empty phrases, giving even more ammunition for anti-democratic regimes to justify their own shady acts.
As a side note, let me mention that Ukraine has also failed to ratify the statute, as it considered the Treaty contrary to the Ukrainian constitution. I find this explanation utterly incomprehensible, especially in light of the fact that the Hungarian government is now preparing to amend the constitution for the eighth time during its reign. Of course, the big question is: which country’s democracy does this comparison reveal more about? Ukraine’s or Hungary’s?
Source: Press release