Yesterday evening, the University Philosophical Society (the Phil) hosted President of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji. Eboe-Osuji, who was born in Nigeria and studied in both Canada and the Netherlands, has previously held the position of Legal Advisor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He presided over the trial of Deputy President William Ruto of Kenya, who was accused of inciting a series of murders for political gain after the country’s controversial 2007 election.
In recent years, Eboe-Osuji has spoken out in defence of the ICC and has been vocal in his opposition to the actions of Donald Trump, president of the United States, and the Israeli State. The US have objected to the investigation launched by the court in relation to alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. Israel has also objected to the court’s attempts to investigate its crimes against Palestinians.
Kate Maher, president of the Phil, began by asking Eboe-Osuji how he sees the future of those countries and whether he thinks there is hope for improvement in relations. Eboe-Osuji was firm in his belief that there is hope and said that “the US Congress actually supported the creation of this court in the 1990s because it would help make the world a more lawful place and would, in turn, benefit the United States”.
Maher then moved on to ask about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an associate justice for the supreme court of the United States, who passed away last month. Trump is currently trying to appoint a new judge quickly before the next presidential election in which he could be voted out of office. Eboe-Osuji responded that although he could not comment directly on the process of nominating supreme court judges in the US, he believes that the major concern is the “dictatorships all over the world who are looking at this and seeing it as a good thing or a sign that a country that is known for their strong rule of law now think it’s a good idea to target [the ICC] so openly”.
John Bolton, a republican politician and former ambassador of the United States to the United Nations, has spoken out against the ICC, describing it as “deeply divisive and so deeply flawed”. Meanwhile, the BBC have peddled a narrative that the ICC is weak and unsuccessful because it hasn’t made enough convictions. “Those sources of criticism cancel themselves out”, said Eboe-Osuji. “We don’t let politics distract us and we do not let the fact that there may be outcry when we acquit somebody deter us. If there is not enough evidence to support the trial, we will acquit, and have done so in the past.”
In Eboe-Osuji’s eyes, certain countries’ unwillingness to work together as an international community comes from “the instinct for self-preservation”. He explained that certain people may not want to subject themselves to such a polarising process where “the result is 50/50… you are either acquitted or convicted and there is no other option”, adding that “that cannot control what the international community does with the ICC”.
With an over 30-year justice career under his belt, Eboe-Osuji has learned a great deal from working in the ICC in particular: “The most important lesson is we cannot give up. The second most important lesson is that these tendencies will always be there.” On the conflict between law and politics, he said: “Law is there to restrain the excesses of politics and when that happens it protects all of us.”
Finally, Maher asked Eboe-Osuji what advice he had for aspiring lawyers and judges. “Remain resolved that this world belongs to you”, he said, adding: “In the past it seemed like the opinion of young people didn’t matter that much but that has changed. Demand what you want done and make your views known.”