- Last Updated: 12:24 AM, June 13, 2012
- Posted: 10:35 PM, June 12, 2012
The war in Syria widens by the day; yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that Russia is supplying the regime with attack helicopters. But, hey, Western diplomats plan to propose a tough new UN resolution. It may even include the “nuclear option”: referring suspected Syrian war criminals for trial in The Hague.
Yes, our side is talking about carrying a plastic spoon to a gun fight.
The only thing that matches the faith we invest in the nascent international justice system is that system’s futility.
The latest cause for faith: In April, an international tribunal convicted Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, of raping and murdering his way through a war in neighboring Sierra Leone.
But it took the tribunal 10 years to convict Taylor. And even that would’ve been impossible without the outside military intervention that ended the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia and edged Taylor out of power.
Yet the believers somehow still think international law can someday soon replace armies as a way to end disputes.
The leader of the efforts to make that dream come true, Luis Moreno Ocampo, spelled it out last week at the United Nations, at a press conference marking his departure after nine years in the top job at the Hague-based International Criminal Court.
“The way to have a civilization is to have rules — it’s not to kill,” Ocampo told me, citing the example of a tiny country that decided it didn’t need a military: “Costa Rica is saying, we use the law to protect our land and our people. The biggest countries use armies to protect their land and their people,” he said.
So who’s right? Ocampo promises that in no time we’d all see Costa Rica’s wisdom. “In 40 years all of us will be together,” he says.
What makes his Kumbaya prediction less than credible is Ocampo’s record as the first ICC prosecutor: As legal scholar Eric Posner points out in The Wall Street Journal,in the court’s first decade,with a budget over $100 million a year,the Ocampo-led team of 700 staffers managedto win one conviction.
Nevertheless, the Security Council keeps referring cases to The Hague, where legal minds deliberate and issue indictments on war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
In 2008, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir became the first head of state so indicted. Surprise: He’s still running Sudan. Four years later, his goons are still at it, re-escalating the genocide in Darfur and threatening to reignite war against newly-free South Sudan.
“We can do better,” insists Ocampo. “In a few years, when justices say this person is indicted, the world will say yes — and it’s the end of this person in power.”
In how many years? The ICC indictment didn’t prompt anyone to arrest Bashir; instead, several of Sudan’s neighbors and allies hosted him as a visiting head of state.
A similar ICC indictment against Moammar Khadafy was a bit more successful. After decades of abuse, Libya’s strongman is no longer — but he never set foot in The Hague. Rather, he was killed during a civil war that the West opted to intervene in.
America’s appetite for Ocampo’s dream is strictly limited. President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Treaty that established the ICC, but couldn’t get the Senate to ratify it.
And President George W. Bush withdrew America’s signature — but his administration declined to veto the Security Council vote that referred Bashir to The Hague.
It was a classic case of the true value of “international justice”: We’re not going to war over this, but feel bad about turning a blind eye to suffering. Voila: We’re doing . . .something.
President Obama is much more attuned to Ocampo-think: Current UN Ambassador Susan Rice enthusiastically raised her hand for the UN resolution that sent Khadafy’s case to the ICC.
Good thing we sent NATO in, too — or Khadafy might still be chatting on the phone with Bashar Assad.
Put aside The Hague’s incompetence, ill-defined rules and all the rest. International law can never replace war because no justice system can function without the cops who catch the perps and haul them to the courthouse.Twitter: @bennyavniFollow @NYPostOpinion