Last week I wrote that the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) is unlikely to try Syria’s President Assad for crimes against humanity because the Court would probably lack jurisdiction. The Rome Statute—the ICC’s founding treaty—empowers the Court to exercise jurisdiction only with respect to crimes (1) committed within the territory of a state-party, (2) committed by a national of a state-party, (3) referred to the Court for prosecution by the UN Security Council, or (4) committed within a non-state-party’s territory or by one of its nationals, if referred to the Court by that non-state-party. In Assad’s case, jurisdiction is unlikely because Syria is not a state-party to the Rome Statute, and the UN Security Council is unlikely to refer the matter to the ICC because Russia and China would object. While it is possible that a post-Assad regime could refer Assad’s crimes to the Court for prosecution, Syrian domestic politics would probably push strongly in favor of domestic prosecution.
The question of ICC jurisdiction is also relevant to ongoing events in Libya. With Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in the midst of collapse and the Colonel himself in hiding, we should consider what role, if any, the ICC will play once Gaddafi is found. Here, the prospect of ICC prosecution seems significantly higher. Like Syria, Libya is not a state-party to the Rome Statute. But in February 2011, the Security Council passed a resolution referring Gaddafi’s use of military force against regime opponents in early 2011 to the ICC. The resolution ordered “Libyan authorities” to “cooperate fully with and provide any necessary assistance to the Court,” and “urge[d] all [other] States” to cooperate fully as well. Several months later, the Court issued arrest warrants against Gaddafi and two other Libyan officials for offenses including crimes against humanity.
Now that Gaddafi has lost control of the government and is in hiding, it will be interesting to see whether the ICC is able to make use of its established jurisdiction. With the Libyan government obliged to adhere to the Security Council’s resolution and all other states urged to do likewise, Gaddafi may have few places to hide.