The Honorable Louise Arbor, Canadian Supreme Court Justice, spoke about the International Criminal Court and presented her case for universal jurisdiction on Wednesday. Arbor was the lead prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTFY) and successfully indicted former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 75 students and scholars, Arbor methodically laid out the jurisdictional issues facing the newly created court, which has roots of legitimacy in the principle of universal jurisdiction. As a former war crimes prosecutor, Arbor offered the audience a glimpse into the issues surrounding the establishment of the International Criminal Court. The court may only prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity when national courts refuse or are unable to prosecute such crimes.

“The signatories of the Rome Treaty prefer domestic resolution of such cases, so that the ICC is complimentary to national laws,” Arbor said. “There is a fair assumption that states will prefer to pursue matters domestically rather than bringing them to the ICC.”

Arbor repeatedly stressed that the ICC is a court of last resort. Only when national laws fail to adequately address human rights will the ICC’s default jurisdiction be activated.

“The ultimate success of the court will be its low case load because it is the default jurisdiction that is only activated when national courts fail to prosecute,” she said.

Arbor also addressed the remote likelihood that American citizens, or European or Canadian citizens for that matter, would ever come before the court. She dismissed concerns that American soldiers and peacekeepers would be subjected to the court because national courts would likely prosecute such cases. If not, laws of extradition could still apply.

Arbor explained that international law and treaties already require states to prosecute or extradite war criminals. Permissive jurisdiction means that states may not shield people accused of certain types of crimes. The United States, for example, extradited Nazi war criminals to Belgium. Citing numerous examples of extradition and extraterritorial jurisdiction, especially by Belgium, Arbor presented her case for American involvement in the ICC.

“The United States should have embraced the ICC so that they could imprint the court with American values,” she said. “I don’t understand American hostility toward the ICC.”

Arbor also tackled the issue of American aggression toward Iraq. “Resolving definitions of aggression is not within the jurisdiction of the ICC because that would submit international politics the court.” Attempting to ally concerns about politically motivated lawsuits, Arbor emphasized that the ICC is not concerned with international politics, and therefore would not accept cases outside of its limited jurisdiction.

During the question and answer session Arbor replied to questions about enforcement, cautioning that people should not have unrealistic expectations of the court. The ICC will focus on prosecuting leaders and people in power because it could never handle everyone accused of war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity.

Cynthia Schneider, former United States Ambassador to the Netherlands at The Hague, introduced Arbor, the fourth lecturer invited to speak at Georgetown as part of the Graduate School Distinguished Lecturer Series.

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences presented this lecture as part of its first Distinguished Lecturer Series. This series hopes to promote greater awareness of graduate students on campus while providing the campus community with an opportunity to “stimulate their minds” by inviting an array of high-profile professionals to speak on subjects that transcend disciplinary boundaries.

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