US unsigning of ICC Treaty threatens grave consequences for international law

The ICJ expresses its profound dismay at the announcement by the United States that it is to remove its signature from the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court (ICC Treaty).

The “unsigning” of an important international treaty by the United States constitutes a victory for international lawlessness. Those within the international community committed to the rule of law should categorically reject the legitimacy of this regressive action.

The ICC treaty, which comes into force on 1 July, establishes an international court based in the Hague to try persons accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and serious war crimes. Sixty-six countries to date have ratified the ICC statute and many more are preparing to do so.

The decision by the United States to withdraw its signature is unprecedented in multilateral treaty making. States which have signed, but not ratified a treaty, are considered to have consented to the general principles of the treaty and are obliged to refrain from taking steps to undermine it.

Under the Bush administration, United States officials have repeatedly indicated that they would not cooperate with the ICC and might even attempt to obstruct its functioning. On 2 April the ICJ sent a letter to President Bush, urging that the United States desist from efforts to undermine the ICC treaty, including withdrawal of its signature.

The United States action, while likely to have little direct impact on the International Criminal Court, poses a grave danger for international law generally. The world’s lone superpower is now sending a signal to all States that they are free to renounce international commitments depending on the mood of the Government of the day.

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