The Washington Working Group for the ICC (WICC) is the center of ICC advocacy efforts in Washington, DC.
Several Senators and Representatives have begun to support bills and resolutions that call on the US to play an active role pursuing criminals in cases before the ICC. Legislators from both sides of the aisle, including strongly conservative ones, have increasingly prioritized the pursuit of international atrocity crimes regardless of their views on the Court itself. In other words, several conservative Senators and Representatives have shown their support for the issues of the Court - condemning criminal acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity that fall under the jurisdiction of the Court, rather than taking positions on the Court as an institution. Several of these legislators have made clear that they can accept trial of accused criminals such as Joseph Kony and other Lord's Resistance Army leaders, as well as Syrian officials, by the ICC.
Greater acceptance of the ICC in Congress is a dramatic divergence from its stance of suspicion and fear during the Bush administration. When the ICC first opened its doors, Congress passed several pieces of anti-ICC legislation prohibiting the extent to which Americans could cooperate with and support the fledgling Court. The most dramatic was the American Servicemembers' Protection Act of 2002 (ASPA), which, before it was amended, prohibited any local, state, or federal government or agency from assisting the Court. It also authorized the President to use any means necessary to ensure the release of any US national detained by the Court. By 2008, however, Congress had repealed the sanctions provisions of ASPA. Now, it is clear that Congress is taking another view on the ICC. By focusing on situations such as Darfur, Uganda and Syria, legislators are acknowledging that the Court can be important in achieving accountability in them. This is also a recognition that this accountability is in the US national interest.
Legislative action reached a high point in House Resolution 687, introduced on June 15, 2012, that directly calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to be tried before the International Criminal Court for committing crimes against humanity. The resolution, introduced by Representative Steve Israel of New York, was co-sponsored by 10 other Representatives, including Aaron Schock of Illinois and very conservative Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma.
The new trend in Congress toward accepting the ICC is positive. It shows that legislators, including several very conservative ones, regard the role of the ICC as important in conflict situations of interest to them. For some, this is a recognition of the merits of the ICC in itself. For others there seems to be no other way to get any action now. The current Congressional movement may also show how a future Republican administration would approach the Court, engaging in situations in the national interest without reverting to active hostility toward the Court.
The support of Congress is essential for encouraging the US to reactivate its signature of the Rome Statute and for ratifying it. Thus, this current trend in Congress is encouraging, and an occasion for advocacy aimed at expanding their acceptance of the ICC. This can be achieved by: 1) informing these politicians more about these conflict situations and, through the situations, engaging them with the Court; and 2) encouraging them to support the work of the Court more broadly.
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