Ukraine and the International Criminal Court

Ukraine has asked the ICC to investigate whether the government of President Viktor Yanukovich committed crimes against humanity from November 2013 until the collapse of his government in February. Although Ukraine has not ratified the Rome Statute (and may indeed not be permitted to under its constitutional law), it has take advantage of a provision of that treaty that allows the ICC to investigate crimes in non-member countries that request its aid.

Ukraine should be careful what it wishes for. If the ICC takes the case (which, for various technical reasons, it may not), Ukraine might find itself in a position similar to that of Uganda. Uganda also referred its conflict with a rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, to the ICC, which accepted jurisdiction. But when Uganda tried to settle the conflict under its amnesty law, the ICC refused to withdraw arrest warrants it had issued. Critics now blame the ICC for prolonging the war. Whatever the merits of their criticisms, the Ugandan government is certainly unhappy with the ICC, calling it a tool of imperial powers. For a damning indictment of the ICC’s involvement in Uganda, see this piece by Adam Branch (who also argues that the ICC has helped legitimate Uganda’s repressive government by agreeing to investigate only the rebels).

Similarly, if the ICC gets involved in Ukraine, and issues arrest warrants against Yanukovich and/or his supporters or members of his former government, the Kiev government may be unable to offer terms of settlement that the other side will agree to, while angering the Russians and for that matter everyone who wants to see the conflict end. Here’s betting the ICC will say “thanks but no thanks.”