With the increase in violent unrest, it is time for the international community to take a good long look at itself. The mechanisms of redress need to be strengthened as there are certainly many difficulties in finding justice for the victims of atrocities. Traditional human rights mechanisms, such as the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, are notoriously slow and unable to impose any meaningful punishment.
Egypt is not subject to the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) as it has not signed the appropriate protocol. This means that the ACHPR cannot adjudicate on the atrocities of the Egyptian military. Similarly, Egypt has not ratified the Rome Statute which established the ICC. As such, it is not subject to the ICC’s automatic jurisdiction.
The authors of the statue recognized that many regimes would try to avoid the court’s jurisdiction by not signing up, so they created another way for the ICC to be granted jurisdiction. Article 13(b) of the Rome Statute allows the ICC to exercise its jurisdiction where international crimes appear to have been committed in a situation that has been referred to it by the UN security council. The clearest precedent for such a referral is in the case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was indicted by the ICC after his case was referred by the security council.
Democratic nations should recognize the great promise shown in the wake of the Arab Spring in Egypt. The fledgling democracy that is Egypt should not be allowed to escalate into another Syria or fall into a perpetual cycle of coup after coup like Pakistan. The British government should rise to its responsibilities and take a global leadership role on this issue as a permanent member of the security council.
It is absolutely vital that the ICC steps in where countries are unable or unwilling to bring to account those who use lethal force to undermine the rule of law and democracy. It is clear that the Egyptian military will not investigate, let alone bring to justice, those who have committed these atrocities. It should be made clear to the Egyptian military, police and coup government that they will not be allowed to betray the Egyptian people and continue these abhorrent practices.
Some human rights are so important that it is the responsibility of all states to protect them. This is encapsulated in the Latin maxim erga omnes meaning “toward all.” In July 2004 the International Court of Justice found, when deliberating on the legality of the wall in Palestine, that the right of self-determination was an erga omnes right. All states have an obligation to protect it.
While the international community contemplates the best word to use when describing the coup and how they should react to it, there are already preparations being made by others to ensure that those responsible for atrocities against Egyptian civilians can be brought to justice.
NGOs and human rights lawyers are organizing themselves to bring the prosecution of perpetrators of international crimes using the legal principle of universal jurisdiction. At its simplest this principle allows states to criminalize acts which are perpetrated beyond their territory, by people who are not their citizens, upon victims who have no connection to their country.