Good Question: How Are War Criminals Punished?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — While Libya is in a state of unrest, there’s already talk about what happens to Moamaar Gaddafi and his sons when they are captured. How are accused war criminals punished?

Good Question.

It may be hard to believe, but the world has only had a permanent International Court since 2002. Not even a decade.

“There are now 116 nations that have become members of the International Criminal Court,” said professor David Weissbrodt, an international law expert at the University of Minnesota Law School.

The United States is not one of those members. The ICC has been criticized because, “they’ve had relatively few cases and no convictions yet,” Weissbrodt said.

So far, leaders in Uganda, Congo and the Central African Republic sent cases to the International Court. That’s one way the ICC gets a case.

Prosecutions against war criminals in Darfur and Libya were sent here by the United Nations Security Council. That’s the second way cases end up with ICC prosecutors.

Of course, more than 100 cases have been sent for investigation, but those investigations take time, and often don’t rise to the level of being prosecutable by the International Court.

When you’re dealing with violence in context of war, collecting the information can be difficult, because the facts can get muddy, Weissbrodt said.

The ICC only hears cases about war crimes or crimes against humanity.

“We’re talking large numbers of people who are killed or tortured,” he explained.

The treaty that established the court defines crimes against humanity as “part either of a government policy or a of a wide practice of atrocities condoned by a government.”

War crimes tribunals are different from International Criminal Court proceedings.
“That might be a domestic proceeding,” Weissbrodt said.

Some Libyan rebels may want a war crimes tribunal: they’d try Gaddafi in house.
The world has seen temporary international tribunals, like the Nuremburg Trials after World War 2, the ad hoc tribunal for Rwanda’s war crimes, and the ad hoc tribunal for Yugoslavia and it’s President Slobodan Milosovec.

“That case is pending,” Weissbrodt said.

The idea of a standing international court is new.

In 2000, then-President Bill Clinton signed the treaty that established the ICC, but he never sent the committee to the Senate for ratification.

Later, President George W. Bush withdrew the signature.

President Barack Obama’s administration has visited the court and pledged to work in a spirit of “positive engagement” with it.

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