November 2017 can be remembered as the month that saw the life sentencing of former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladić. This is welcome news: Mladić is responsible for the death of over 7000 Bosnian Muslims and a non-guilty verdict would have been catastrophic for the integrity of international law. Mladić’s sentencing, however, does little to deter from the reality that international law (or rather its agents) is not doing enough to bring war criminals to justice. Accordingly, the article aims to serve as a reminder of some of the current atrocities going legally unpunished, the point being that we need to see a renewed will for justice amongst the international community.
The UN itself has recognised that ISIS has committed and is continuing to commit genocide against the Yazidis in Iraq. Despite this overt recognition, the perpetrators have faced no legal accountability; in the words of Amal Clooney, UN action on this issue has been “passive”. Clooney has suggested some measures that the UN could take in response to ISIS’ violence. For instance, she has urged for the UN Security Council or the UN Security General to set up an investigation into ISIS’ crimes or for the Security Council to refer the group to the International Criminal Court. The UN has taken some of these recommendations on board. This said, ISIS has been firmly established in Iraq since 2014. Is it really good enough that it was only this September that the Security Council asked the Secretary General to create an independent investigative team to support Iraq’s efforts to hold ISIS accountable for its actions?
The on-going Syrian Civil War has seen brutally on all sides. Although Assad denies the using chemical weapons against his own people, multiple reputable bodies (for example French Intelligence agencies) attribute the chemical attacks to his regime. The UN response to the regime’s brutalities has been disappointing; this is largely due to Russia and China’s persistent efforts to block sanctioning on the Assad regime. Indeed just recently Russia exercised its Security Council veto to shut down UN inspectors in Syria who had been gathering evidence of chemical weapons use. This is a clear demonstration of the obstructiveness of state interest.
Admittedly, the position in international law regarding immunities does not allow for Assad, in his current role as President, to be brought to trial at The Hague. Nevertheless, even if his immunity protection was taken away the past record of the International Criminal Court does not give us confidence that justice would be served. It is doubtful that we will ever see Robert Mugabe, recently ousted from the presidency of Zimbabwe and thus no longer having personal immunity, stand trial in The Hague. It therefore appears that nowadays, unfortunately the default assumption is that war criminals will walk free.