Headquarters of the International Criminal Court in The Hague Photo: CC, Vincent van Zeijst
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Only international courts should be able to try politicians for war crimes

Earlier this month, a Spanish judge issued an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and seven other current and former government officials involved in an Israeli Defence Forces raid in 2010 that left nine dead. The investigation was brought forward by Spanish activists on board the boats. 

A Malaysian court in 2012 convicted former U.S. President George Bush and other American officials for war crimes. The recent court cases, focus us to ask who exactly has the right to arrest world leaders?

It is not, and should not be the role of national judicial systems to make legal determinations about the leaders of other nations.

These types of trials are the role of the international court system, however that system has consistently been focused on targeting leaders of smaller nations rather than holding all leaders to the same standard.

The United Nations has the International Court of Justice, although that is primarily focussed on disputes between states and providing legal advice to other elements of the United Nations rather than sentencing. 

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the main body responsible for trying individuals, although there are often special tribunals set up like after the Rwandan genocide and the violent break-up of Yugoslavia.

The fact that there are already international institutions set up to handle situations such as this means that Spain shouldn’t have taken it upon themselves to issue the warrant.

While the ICC has the mandate to try heads of state, they’ve also been accused of having strong biases, with five heads of state being tried from 2000-2012 and four of them former leaders of African nations. The sole non-African leader tried was Slobedon Milosevic, who was charged with genocide and ethnic cleansing after the war in the former Yugoslavia, however he died during the course of his trial.

The four other leaders who have been affected by the ICC are the former President of Côte d’Ivoire Laurent Gbagbo, Jean Kambanda former leader of Rwanda, Charles Taylor the former leader of Liberia and Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed four months after an arrest warrant was issued.

By its very nature the idea of trying a national leader needs to come from an international body, because that is the only group that can supersede the power of a state. However there needs to exist a fairer system that is capable of trying leaders from all countries for crimes, and those trials must be conducted to make the world a safer place for all.

If that is to be the case, international courts must also have the ability and the will to go after all leaders instead of focusing only on the developing world. All leaders must be held to the same standard.