The ICC and the Politics of Democratic Transition in North Africa

On 3 July, the Hague Institute brought together a selected group of experts for a roundtable on the effects of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on democratic politics and transitions as well as the effects of domestic politics on Rome Statute ratification and cooperation. These issues were addressed with a particular reference to Egypt (a country that has committed to ratifying the Rome Statute), Libya (a situation country) and Tunisia (a country that has ratified the Statute).

The roundtable featured two speakers – Mr. AbdelGhangy Sayed (Public International Law Fellow at Shalakany Law Office) and Ms. Jennifer Schense (International Cooperation Advisor in the Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division of the Office of the Prosecutor, at the ICC) – and experts from governments, non-government organisations, academia and diplomatic community.

The ensuing discussion focused on the role of the ICC in democratic transitions as well as challenges the court still faces such as a lack of state cooperation and existing misperceptions about the court’s work. It was opined that the court both eases and complicates transitional justice initiatives. It can encourage domestic investigations into international crimes and can empower national actors. Though its involvement (e.g. issuing arrest warrants) can also hinder the process of transition in that political leaders may be reluctant to step down for fear of prosecution.

Moreover, political leaders can shore up their legitimacy by claiming to be victimized by the court, which they portray as a tool of Western imperialism. In tackling such difficulties, it should first be acknowledged that although the court is a judicial institution it is subject to political considerations and limits. Furthermore, the court should take responsibility for making its goals and decisions clear. In addition it is important for the court to invest in building relationships with key actors from the region who are committed to international justice.

In the coming weeks, The Hague Institute will issue a policy brief on the role of rule of law in democratic transitions, specifically focused on Egypt.

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