Encouraging Democracy by Undermining International Law?


Does the ICC help or hurt?

Stephen Walt has a post up about how best to encourage states to transition to democracy. For Walt, the best way to encourage  a leader to step down is to guarantee that the privileges gained when in power (“ill-gotten gains”) are not immediately stripped. Walt cites SCAF in Egypt and Assad in Syria as examples:

 Suppose you were a member of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. You don’t really want to run the country openly anymore, and turning it over to some sort of civilian rule would be ok with you. But you’ve gotten pretty rich over the past couple of decades and you’re worried the secularists or Islamists might create a genuine democracy, strip you of your power, and then take away all your money and leave you and your family destitute. Or worse. Similarly, what if you were a member of the Alawite ruling elite in Syria, closely tied to the Assad regime? You’re now facing the prospect of civil war, but giving the opposition any real share of power threatens your position and maybe your personal security. Alawites are only 12 percent of the population, after all, and there’s no guarantee that sharing power won’t ultimately put others in a position to persecute you. So compromise is inherently dangerous, and brutal repression starts to look like the only appealing option despite the costs and risks.

I used this same basic argument against the use of the ICC in Libya and Syria. Assad, for example, would be less likely to resign if it meant that the ICC would subsequently attempt to arrest him. Refusing to bring in the ICC means sacrificing justice to ensure – or at least encourage – a peaceful end to a conflict.

Of course, this strategy undermines the ICC. Why have an international court if it is forced to ignore current human rights abuses (back to Damascus…)? Moreover, if the international community agrees to immunity in return for the end of a conflict, the ICC is no longer able to target those who committed past abuses, but are now protected.

Like Walt, I believe that the promise of immunity is the best way to quickly end these types of conflicts., even if the agreement does undermine international justice. Internationally, many would find such a trade-off unacceptable. Even for those who were directly affected by the conflicts would be upset at seeing those who were responsible for killing loved ones set free. However, if such immunity does lead to a quick end to the violence, it very well may be worthwhile. Even if it diminishes the credibility of the  institutions of international justice.

Photo from Arab Democracy Now


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