By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, J.D.
Founder/President, G.L.O.B.A.L Justice
Today is International Criminal Justice Day — and my heart is heavy thinking of the victims of the Tennessee shootings–military servicepeople senselessly gunned down yesterday; the families of the victims in the Aurora, Colorado shootings–receiving a verdict of murder but still emotional at the loss of their loved ones; and many others facing violence and oppression around the globe.
International Criminal Justice Day, also referred to as World Day for International Justice or International Justice Day is commemorated throughout the world to recognize the emerging system of international criminal justice. July 17, 1998, was the date of adoption of the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although the Rome Statue was adopted by a vote 120 to 7, the seven countries that voted against the treaty were Iraq, Israel, Libya, the People’s Republic of China, Qatar, Yemen, and the United States.
Under the Rome Statue, the International Criminal Court can only investigate and prosecute when states are unable or unwilling to do so themselves. Given the enormous number of criminal cases, and particularly international criminal cases that domestic courts do not handle, only a limited number actually are reviewed by the ICC. As such, the majority of international crimes are neither prosecuted not punished. This raises the issue of impunity, particularly for the world’s largest scale crimes, most notably arms trafficking, drug trafficking, and human trafficking.
While both the Rome Statute and the ICC are far from comprehensive and we still do not have a truly international court or international police, the need for some form of international oversight of international crimes is apparent. Genocide, violence against women, terrorism, among other crimes, raises a specter that often is beyond the scope on any one country and has implications for all countries.
Further, in the countries that did not adopt the Rome Charter, we see some distinct criminal justice concerns. Clearly, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen with their ongoing conflicts and violence challenge the domestic and international criminal justice system. But even countries with more developed criminal justice systems such as Israel, China, and the US have significant issues. China is regularly cited for human rights abuses or transgressions, particularly in criminal justice. Israel has been criticized for their war time and other practices. And the United States has been in a perpetual state of needing criminal justice reform.
President Obama earlier this week presented a sweeping proposal for criminal justice reform at his presentation before the NAACP convention. It should not be surprising that he used that venue to raise these criminal justice issues since racial concerns have been apparent within the US criminal justice system. Various criminal statistics show that African Americans, in particular, have a higher likelihood of getting stopped, arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced. But, FBI statistics historically and recently indicate that while most violent crimes (and crimes in general) are committed by Whites, the highest percentage of violent crimes committed against African Americans is by African Americans. Thus, racial concerns are both difficult and nuanced. And, criminal justice reform needs to not be limited to issues of race, gender, etc.
The growing prison system and the tension between just punishment and rehabilitation along with the need for restoration make both the process and the criminal justice system require review and reform. Add to that the need to address the tension between protecting the public and reintegrating into society those who have served sentences. In addition, the recent shooting of a young woman in San Francisco by a multiple time offender who was also an illegal immigrant in a safe haven context, we see yet another challenge within our existing framework that requires reform.
Even if some domestic reforms are made in the United States and other nations, we are still left with the quandary of how to handle the larger scale international crime that has both impact and implications not only for our own interests but those of other countries as well. While the ICC may not be the sole answer for the US and others, it may be part of the developing international criminal justice system that can and must be more effective than our current limited systems. Otherwise, the people in all parts of the globe are left more vulnerable than ever to various forms of crimes.
Lastly but most importantly, while criminal reforms are certainly necessary here and abroad, it’s the hearts and minds of people that have to change the most for justice and peace to prevail. Integrated into our society and in turn our criminal justice system needs to be a moral foundation that values life and dignity and balances justice and mercy. As long as we live in cultures where life and dignity are not valued, there will always be the likelihood of crime, and particularly violent crime. And while certain criminal laws and controls can assist, they cannot by themselves ensure justice or mercy, but neither can vigilantes. True justice comes when the context for and the perspectives about violence, socio-economics, and humanity coincide with a principled, balanced approach within society. Then, and only then, can we have a more reformed criminal justice system and a more just and peaceful society.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.