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Why is Human Dignity Placed Lower on the Acceptable Expenditures List than a Boeing-777?

Should we put a price tag on justice and human dignity? All men are created equal as stated by the U.S. Declaration of Independence. However, this utopian ideal is far from the truth as we can see in the debate over the allocation of funds and time to the International Criminal Court. By creating hierarchies of what is worth our investment, we are reinforcing the underlying beliefs that some human lives are valued more than others. International Justice may not be perfect and is still in the making, but that should not warrant a condemnation of the efforts that have been made.

Wars have taken an ever-increasing toll on civilian populations while international response has shown efforts to establish a peace structure in a world court with long-lasting principles of justice. The concept of an international court can be traced back to the post World War I era of the League of Nations and the peace negotiations at Versailles. This multination project for international peace and security would provide an international institution that would pave the way to juridical processes concerning the world. International law has continued to be highly debated in its very essence of effectiveness. Renewed hope sprang up when the International Criminal Court was established and unlike the International Court of Justice, it holds individuals liable as opposed to solely resolving disputes between countries.

The international criminal court has come at a cost; however, of some estimated $1 billion dollar expenditures since its founding in 1998. Specialized Tribunals regarding the atrocities of genocides like the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia or the Special Court for Sierra Leone carry high costs as well with the former costing $2 million and the latter $300 million dollars.

With few convictions to show despite carrying such a high cost, critics question: Is it worth it? My answer is yes, it absolutely is. The international criminal proceedings find their effectiveness in the greater scheme of things by affecting the conduct of states with its deterrence effect, as well as joining retributive and restorative justice by allowing victims to participate in judicial proceedings.

A court of such magnitude promotes international legal norms and advances the rule of law in a manner that includes those that have suffered the consequences of criminal acts by states, such as genocides. The number of convictions should not taint the legacy of the court for it should be judged by the lasting effect it carries in the deterrence of crime within the international community.

While the price these proceedings carry can seem daunting; however, when put into perspective the critique of its cost seems absurd. A Boeing 777 airplane carries the price tag of $295 million dollars and a Boeing 777-9 a whopping $425.9 million. The Department of Defenses requested $590 billion for the fiscal year of 2017 and the estimated cost of sending one soldier to Afghanistan, beyond salaries, is close to a million dollars per year. A court and tribunals that try the gravest human right abuses cannot solely be defined by its cost, but its crux lies in its aim to prevent mass violence and bring justice to those who have suffered from it.

Justice is difficult, and justice is expensive, but as the international prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian, who has worked on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, said during his presentation at the Dr. Berj H. Haidostian Annual Distinguished Lecture: “It affects the whole world and every human in it, therefore, it is everybody’s business.” International justice is imperfect, but it is something that should be of concern not only to those directly affected by the crimes against humanity, but all, as the very essence of “humanity” implies universality. An effective performance of the ICC’s mandates requires the support and cooperation of states, so why don’t we promote the powerful states, such as the United States, to join the efforts for justice and give the court more credibility and weight instead of condemning the court for its low conviction rate to cost ratio, while doing nothing to change it and only hindering the right to human dignity?