Researchers say International Criminal Court is flawed, but essential

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The International Criminal Court is saving civilian lives in multiple countries, according to research that provides the first quantitative evidence.

The study by professors at Harvard University and Texas A&M, which will be featured in the summer issue of the journal International Organization, has drawn widespread attention from people on either side of a polarized debate about the ICC’s role in international justice.

Vocal critics have long claimed the ICC is an ineffective obstacle to peace processes while enthusiasts believe it useful in advancing global peace and security. The underlying question: is the ICC irreparably flawed or an institution worth investing in?

Now researchers Beth Simmons and Hyeran Jo have contributed a systematic study that can impartially inform this pressing debate in international affairs.

The academics tracked the ICC’s actions over time, global ratification patterns, and domestic legal reforms. They analyzed whether those factors reduced civilian killing patterns in about 100 countries with prior experience of civil war. Their findings suggest the ICC has a clear deterrent impact and helps prevent atrocities worldwide.

“There is now some reason to think the ICC saves some lives — but the ICC is also deeply embedded in the world of politics and faces challenges in securing state support and capturing criminals,” said Simmons, Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University and former director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.