NINETY-THREE years ago, at the Paris Peace Conference, Woodrow Wilson put forward a proposal for a Permanent Court of International Justice, saying, “a living thing is born.’’ Not quite. Fierce attachments to narrow notions of national sovereignty, especially strong in Wilson’s own nation, forced a nearly century-long postponement of that birth. Recently, however, a cry of new life could be heard from The Hague, a hint that Wilson’s ideal may yet be realized.
The International Criminal Court issued its first verdict, finding Congolese rebel militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of forcing children to become soldiers in a war fueled by gold, guns, and lucrative trade. Turning children into uniformed instruments of mayhem is now formally declared a war crime. Coming a decade after the court was established, amid many complaints about procedure, limited charges, and immunity for other Congolese warlords, the verdict is controversial. Indeed, the court itself is broadly criticized. Its investigations to date are mostly focused on Africa, suggesting both an age-old racial bias and a tilt in favor of powerful nations that remain effectively immune. The court has no enforcement mechanism, so numerous indicted offenders remain at large, including Sudan’s genocidal president, Omar Al Bashir. And some argue that despots are driven to savage extremes when ICC charges corner them - as may have occurred with Moammar Khadafy.