Quaker Universalist Voice

Speaking truth in the global public square…

The International, but Not Universal, Criminal Court

A Review of J. Freedman, A Conviction in Question: The First Trial at the International Criminal Court (2018)

This book offers us the dramatic story of the first trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague.  The defendant Lubanga was a warlord in the Congo, charged with doing bad things.  Lubanga was convicted of some bad things in this first trail before the ICC.

J.  Freedman, A Conviction in Question: The First Trial at the International Criminal Court (2018) presents a good story of a new institution with growing pains, while adjudicating accountability for bad individual behavior. Since this first trial, procedures, and personalities in the ICC have improved.

The remaining major criticism of the ICC is the non-universal reality of ICC investigations, which should apply to all countries equally.  Established in 2002 by the Rome Treaty, the international community defined four international crimes (crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide crimes, and the crime of aggression) and created the ICC to adjudicate international prosecutions for these crimes.  But, since 2002, the ICC has been criticized for one-sided prosecution of African leaders and for the self-exclusion of the U.S.  from ICC jurisdiction along with Iraq, Libya, Israel, China, Qatar, and Yemen.

The ICC is a step in the direction of creating the institutions for managing global lcriminal challenges. Other comparable institutions to manage universal issues with a global perspective include The World Health Organization, The World Bank, The International Telecommunication Union, and The International Civil Aviation Organization.  These institutions serve us all, including the U.S.

The author provides helpful endnotes, but they are dry, except those about the role of the ICC prosecutor and the outsourcing of investigations.  There is a bibliography, an index, and a useful map of the area of central Africa where the Lubanga bad behavior took place.

There is a potentially important role for nonprofit organizations, like Quaker organizations, in providing forums for strengthening the criminal  adjudication process and procedures of the ICC. Perceived fairness and services for the victims of bad behavior must particularly be managed carefully. The author raises, but does not discuss, the value of outside court constituencies in the nonprofit sector to hold the ICC accountable for its values and procedures in this first case.  Examples of challenges include the role of individual victim participation in the trials, the visibility of documentation of sexual violence evidence, reparations for the victims, witness protection, the role of the ICC prosecutor, and consistent court procedure.  

The book’s title is clever, but distracting.  There are two meanings of conviction.  There is the conviction of Lubanga in this trial and the conviction in the integrity of the ICC.  Both were in question in this story.  

The author concedes a cynical attitude toward this first trial and the ICC generally, which helps to highlight the deficiencies in this first trial event. However, the author misses opportunities to offer substantive suggestions for improvement of future trials and the remediating services of the ICC.

Quakers: There is no discussion of any role for religious groups.  There is no mention of Quakers.  Quakers have a presence in some international forums. The Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is currently the most notable, although QUNO has little current presence in the ICC arena.  Quakers have no significant, current presence or strategy for supporting the ICC in its universal service to us all.


  • How do Quaker testimonies apply to international criminal accountability?
  • What role should Quaker organizations play in relation to the ICC?


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