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International Justice System as a Reflection of an Emerging Global Community


Peace has been elusive in many countries due to a lack of commitment by governments to prosecute individuals for the crimes they commit. In some instances, countries do not have the appropriate structures to prosecute the perpetrators of crime, or such structures are abused by the people in power, who use them for their own benefit. As a result, citizens of many countries have been victims to crimes committed by their own fellow citizens. Lack of prosecution means that impunity has prevailed, and such crimes that deprive people of peace usually recur. Examples include the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Kenya, Sudan, and more recently, Kenya. These are just but a few cases where violence has been used persistently by some individuals with a motive to gain power.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is one the most significant structures put in place to deal with international justice and ensure that justice prevails even where states are unwilling to prosecute criminals and where states do not have adequate structures to try people who commit international crimes against humanity. This is in addition to the role played by the United Nations (UN) Security Council. The aim of this paper is to analyse the role of the UN Security Council and the ICC, and the significant role these structures have played in instilling an emerging global community.

The UN Security Council

Perhaps the most significant aspects of the international justice system are reflected in two creations of the UN Security council – the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The ICTR was created under the UN Security Council Chapter VII by Resolution 955 on 8 November 1994, in recognition of the serious violations of human law that were committed in Rwanda. The chapter specifies that “the Security Council has the right to take decisions which maintain peace and security” (Barria & Roper, 2005, p. 354). The purpose of ICTR is to contribute to the course of countrywide reconciliation in Rwanda and the safeguarding of peace in the region. The ICTR was created to prosecute people answerable for the mass killings and other serious infringements of international humanitarian laws executed in Rwanda from 1 January 1994 to 31 December 1994. The ICTR may also deal with the trial of Rwandan citizens culpable for the genocide and other related international law abuses committed in the region of bordering states during the same period (ICTR).

In the same perspective, the ICTY is a court formed by a resolution of the United Nations to deal with crimes that occurred during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s. According to Brown (2011), ICTY was formed by the UN Security Council following several reports of massive killings, ethnic cleansing and systematic rape in the former Yugoslavia. According to the Tribunal’s website, since the ICTY was established in 1993 it has irreversibly transformed the landscape of international humanitarian law and offered victims an opportunity to voice the horrors they witnessed and went through. In addition, in its example-setting decisions on genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the Tribunal has revealed that an individual’s senior position can no longer cushion them from prosecution. The Tribunal puts to task people who are suspected to bear the greatest responsibility for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. By doing this, the individuals responsible bear responsibility, protecting entire communities from being labelled as “collectively responsible” (ICTY).

Akhavan (2001) praises both the ICTR and the ICTY for providing a unique empirical basis for assessing the impact of international criminal justice on post-conflict peace building. The conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda resulted from the deliberate agitation of ethnic hatred and violence by which ruthless absolute leaders and warlords elevated themselves to posistions that were beneficial to them. At a tense transition stage, the planned manipulation of fears and tensions resulted in a self-perpetuating spiral of violence in which thousands of citizens became the unsuspecting instruments of unscrupulous political elites fighting for supremacy. In view of this unfolding, the quest to hold responsible the leaders with criminal dispositions and a vested interest in conflict makes a positive contribution to post-conflict peace building and restoring justice. A post-conflict culture of justice is perceived to make moral credibility a worthwhile political asset for victims’ groups, thus rendering vengeance not only less tempting but more costly (Akhavan, 2001).

The international tribunals highlighted above are significant facets of international justice. The ICTR was modelled on the basis of the structure of the ICTY, and prosecutions for crimes against humanity have provided the tribunals with the opportunity to turn a set of abstract ideas into a fully fledged and elaborate body of law that can be applied globally (Schabas, 2006). This is based on the fact that there is generality of the concept of crimes against humanity irrespective of where the crimes occur. The ICTY and ICTR are also more detailed in scope as they list the nature of crimes that are punishable, including rape and imprisonment. According to Schabas (2006), this can be considered a progressive development in international law. Barria and Roper (2005) also point out that the ICTY and the ICTR are an embodiment of significant advancements in the interpretation and implementation of international law. It is also an indication that the world is united in dealing with perpetrators of international humanitarian crimes – which is a reflection of a global community.

Under the ICTY, a number of renowned personalities have faced trial, including the Serb Bosnian President Radovan Karadzic and President of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic (UN Secretary-General, 2007; Akhavan, 2001). Similarly, in Rwanda a Defence Ministry official who was pivotal in planning the execution plan for one ethnic community, Theoneste Bagosora and Jean Kambanda, the prime minister of the 1994 interim government for Rwanda were apprehended (Akhavan, 2001).

According to Schabas (2001), it is indubitable that the most significant development in the international criminal law since the existence of the discipline is the implementation in the Rome Statute of the ICC on July 1 2002. The ICC is the first permanent, treaty-based court for international crimes formed to help end impunity for the architects of the most heinous humanitarian violations that affect the international community (ICC). This approach is similar to that followed by international criminal tribunals of the UN Security Council. The ICC however surpasses the ICTY and the ICTR because the tribunals were formed to try crimes committed only within a particular period and during a particular conflict whereas the ICC is an independent and permanent court for international crimes (ICC).

The ICC has intervened in various scenarios. The issuance of an arrest warrant against Omar al Bashir, the incumbent president of Sudan, and the request made by the prosecutor of the court’s pre-trial chamber to open investigations into the post-election violence that occurred in Kenya in 2007 and early 2008 are good examples of such cases (Mertens, 2011). The Kenyan case is in progress and the people suspected to bear the greatest responsibility for the violence that occurred after the 2007 election recently appeared before the court for official notification. ICC judges authorised the court’s prosecutor to investigate the Kenyan case in March 2010 after the Kenyan government failed to implement appropriate measures to bring those responsible for the 1,333 deaths and displacements of about 400,000 people to court (Human Rights Watch 2011).

The ICC serves as an answer to the quest for a more permanent forum to address the most egregious atrocities in the world. As opposed to the ad hoc tribunals of different kinds, the ICC is a permanent entity. According to the UN Secretary-General (2007), in the considerably short period the Court has been in existence, it has established itself as a centrepiece of the system of international justice. It also embodies and furthers an insightful advancement in international culture and law. Importantly, the ICC serves notice to would-be perpetrators of violence that their actions today may result in international prosecution in days to come. This puts the world together as a global community as perpetrators of violence are warned that their actions can end up in an international court even if they are not prosecuted at home (UN Secretary-General, 2007).

The fact that the ICC has prosecuted a number of individuals and a number or cases are in progress implies that the Court has a lot of meaning to international justice. What is required is cooperation to ensure that the Court carries out its mandate successful. This viewpoint was echoed by the UN Secretary-General (2007) who called upon member states to do everything within their powers to help in enforcing arrests warrants. Further, Mendes (2010) notes that the international community should not be looking at the ICC in isolation as regards the peace and justice challenge. Rather, the Court should be viewed as a catalyst in the global fight against impunity that promotes peace throughout the world.


In conclusion, both the UN Security Council and the ICC have enhanced international justice around the world, reinforcing the need for justice for all and strengthening unity of different societies the world over. Through the ICTY and the ICTR, the UN Security Council has shown that justice can be found even where states are unable to prosecute criminals on their own. In the same way, the ICC is a more lasting solution to dealing with international violations of humanitarian law. The fact that the UN Security Council supports the Court’s existence and functions shows international commitment to international justice, and that the world is united to a large extent in dealing with international humanitarian violations.


Akhavan P. (2001). “Beyond impunity: Can international criminal justice prevent future atrocities?” The American Journal of International Law. 95(7): 7-31.

Barria, L.A. & Roper, S.D. (2005). “How effective are international criminal tribunals? An analysis of the ICTY and the ICTR.” The International Journal of Human Rights. 9 (3): 349-368.

Brown, B. (2011). Research Handbook on International Criminal Law. London: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Human Rights Watch (9 March 2011). “ICC: Justice Advances in Kenya Case.” Retrieved 18 April 2011 from http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/03/09/icc-justice-advances-kenya-case

ICC . Retrieved 18 April 2011 from http://www.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/About+the+Court/

ICTR. “General information”. Retrieved 18 April 2011 from http://www.unictr.org/AboutICTR/GeneralInformation/tabid/101/Default.aspx

ICTY. “About the ICTY.” Retrieved 18 April 2011 from http://www.icty.org/sections/AbouttheICTY

Mendes, E. P. (2010).Peace and Justice at the International Criminal Court: A Court of Last Resort. London: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Mertens, M. (2011). The International Criminal Court:
A European Success Story? EU Diplomacy Papers 01/2011. College of Europe,Department of EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies/

Schabas, W. (2006). The UN international criminal tribunals: the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schabas, W. (2008). War crimes and Human Rights: Essays on the Death Penalty, Justice and Accountability. New York: Cameron May.

UN Secretary-General (3 December 2007). “Cooperation is essential in determining effectiveness of international criminal court, secretary-general tells states parties to Rome Statute.” Retrieved 18 April 2011 from http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2007/sgsm11310.doc.htm