The ICC made its first verdicts, but its political status remained uncertain. Europeans avoided citing the ICC over Syria, and the UK raised fears that the Palestinians might use it as a tool against Israel.
The ICC handed down its first guilty verdict in March 2012, concluding that a Congolese warlord had recruited child soldiers (it also found another Congolese defendant not guilty). The ICC’s successful completion of these cases was a relief for supporters of the court, including EU member states that have waited for this moment for over a decade. But a series of crises raised questions about the ICC’s role in European foreign policy and there were controversies over Balkan war-crimes prosecutions. In 2011, the UNSC had also authorised the ICC to investigate war crimes in Libya. But while the court has pursued individuals including Saif al-Islam Gaddafi (son of the late Colonel Gaddafi), the new Libyan authorities have refused to send them to The Hague for trial. Alternatives, including a trial in Libya, remain under discussion. Meanwhile, proposals by some EU member states including France to involve the ICC in Syria failed to win US support, which feared that this would complicate negotiations.
The ICC was also a concern for some EU member states during the debate over recognising Palestine as an “observer state” in the UNGA. The UK in particular expressed concerns that this would give the Palestinians access to the ICC, allowing them to raise Israeli activities there (which in turn fuelled the accusation that the ICC was a tool only for the West). The Palestinians refused to promise not to do this, causing the UK to abstain on the recognition vote. While EU member states remain strongly committed to the ICC in principle, concerns about its political role are clearly mounting. There were also debates about the political implications of international justice at the end of the year when the ICTY terminated a number of long-running cases against high-profile Croat and Kosovar defendants. Although the tribunal justified this on technical grounds, critics argued that it demonstrated that it had an anti-Serb bias. This was an uneasy moment for Europeans, who have insisted that the former Yugoslav states should cooperate with ICTY if they want to accede to the EU.