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Why do authoritarian governments join the International Criminal Court?

Medlir Mema
The George Washington University
Medlir Mema
The George Washington University
Open Panel

Abstract

Why do governments join the ICC? One of the most prominent arguments put forward suggests that joining the ICC is a device to make a government’s commitment to reduce civil violence credible by tying its own hands not only to prosecute fairly, but also to be prosecuted. The target of this signaling is said to be domestic opposition, both political as well as, and especially, military. I challenge this assertion and some of the methodological choices that the authors make. In particular, I question the use of ratification data as the sole measure of state intent to cooperate with the Court. Instead, I suggest the inclusion of data on implementation of additional protocols guaranteeing cooperation with the ICC as well as domestic implementation of ICC related legislation. Further, I look at statements made by state representatives during the recent Review Conference. I find that while states may engage in signaling, governments that join the ICC do so to convince their opponents that the government is committed to prosecuting them, but not necessarily for the government to become subject to the Court. In this scenario the Court becomes a tool in the hands of the state, rather than the target of ICC prosecution.