Why the Ngudjolo Acquittal Is Not Necessarily Bad News for the ICC

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about yesterday’s acquittal of Congolese rebel leader Mathieu Ngudjolo.

OSJI’s Eric Witte describes the verdict as a “worrying signal about the quality of ICC prosecutions,” while human rights groups suggest that the court has failed to provide justice to Congolese victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

These reactions are undoubtedly valid, but there’s a silver lining.

Courts have to do two things to establish their legitimacy. They must show that they can enforce accountability for unlawful behavior, and they must demonstrate their allegiance to the legal process rather than politics. That second criterion is a particular challenge for the International Criminal Court, a relatively new legal institution operating in a highly politicized context.

Yesterday’s acquittal shows that, although the ICC faces tremendous pressure to deliver convictions, it will not operate merely as a stamp on public consensus about a defendant’s guilt. If the prosecution failed to prove the charges against Ngudjolo beyond a reasonable doubt, then it is an important and positive development for international justice that the Trial Chamber declined to convict him.

If Hollywood Made A Biopic Of My Last Month, It Would Be Directed By Michael Bay

This last month has set a record for “number of disasters causing people to email Amanda and ask if she’s okay.” Riots when I was in London, the earthquake in New York last week, and then of course Hurricane Irene.  Cities should consider paying me to stay away from them.  Also, fair warning to the citizenry of Pennsylvania: I will be in Philly next weekend.

I appreciate the good wishes, though, and I’m fine, y’all. Promise.

Some random other thoughts on said disasters:

Rock me like a hurricane:

  • My friends J and L, finding themselves on the top floor of an elevator building, two blocks from an evacuation zone, and past L’s due date, did the only reasonable thing they could under the circumstances: they threw a hurricane party, with live music.  They are my heroes.
  • While I am pleased that New York took such pains to ensure that we would not be endangered by the hurricane, Mayor Bloomberg’s two-pronged strategy of “scare the crap out of the citizenry” and “proactively ensure that the city is shut down ahead of time, regardless of whether the hurricane actually hits” seemed to get a little out of hand on occasion.  I think my favorite moments were Bloomberg’s Spanish speaking, (which of course now has its own parody twitter feed in tribute), and when he said that electricity in Lower Manhattan would probably be cut off preemptively to avoid damage to the cables, at which point Con Ed announced that this plan was news to them. 

Earthquake!

  • Why don’t we give earthquakes names like we do hurricanes?  Perhaps we could name them after fruits.  “Where were you when Kumquat hit?” 
  • When Kumquat hit, I was in my apartment, having just arrived home off of an overnight flight.  Hence the following exchange:
    • Amanda: Do you feel the ground shaking?
    • Husband: Hee hee, is somebody a little tired?
    • Amanda: *checks computer* It was an earthquake!  See?  READ THE INTERNET.

London’s (well, was) Burning

  • Lee, who is a real live British Person, has some interesting thoughts about the riots over at Roving Bandit.  You should read them!
  • Obviously things were unusually bad there that weekend, but what on earth did U.S. media coverage of the riots say, to prompt some of the concerned emails I received?  I assure you, reports of babies being roasted in the streets have been greatly exaggerated.
  • In fact, I know that everyone else was shocked by the smashings and stealings, but I myself was surprised at how little violence was directed at people, rather than at stuff.  From what I saw, and read, it was really more like violent shopping than what I usually think of as rioting. (In many cases, apparently, looters stopped to try things on before stealing them.)  In my opinion, that should actually be taken as a pretty good sign about the State of British Youth – if that’s as bad as it gets, it’s not that bad.
  • That being said, if I were Britain, I’d be having a long, careful think about my class system right about now.  I don’t mean economic opportunity, which is a related issue, but not the same thing.  (Class in the U.K. is more like race in the U.S. than class in the U.S.)  I am consistently amazed at how big a deal class is there, and I still don’t completely understand it.  However, I’m pretty sure that if you’re going to construct your society around a set of sometimes-arcane rules for social behavior and status, and rely on them for everyday stability, you probably need to make sure that everyone has an incentive to buy into the aforementioned byzantine set of rules. I have no idea about the specifics of the rioters’ lives – I’m sure that some of them were poor, and that plenty of others were doing fine, economically.  But it doesn’t shock me that they didn’t feel much allegiance to a society that’s not really set up to benefit them in any way.