Egypt: It’s Time to Call in the ICC

Nearly 1,000 people have been killed in the last week in Egypt. There have been at least three massacres of pro-Morsi supporters perpetrated by security forces. Everyday brings news of more killings, more massacres. Soldiers are storming Mosques;  thugs are storming Coptic Churches.

Egypt is turning into one big crime scene, and there is very little expectation that those who are orchestrating the violence will be brought to justice.  It is time to seriously consider the value that an ICC investigation may bring to help break the cycle of violence that is swiftly overtaking Egypt.

Several analysts have theorized that the military is embarking on a cold, calculating campaign of violence that seeks to provoke the Muslim Brotherhood into responding to state-sponsored violence with terrorist attacks. The terrorists attacks, the theory goes, will consequently justify the military regime’s tactics and power–and perhaps the return to a perpetual state of emergency in which power is formally concentrated in the hands of the military.

A credible, internationally backed criminal investigation may help stem revenge killings or other acts of people taking justice into their own hands. It could put regime officials on notice that there will be a reckoning for state sponsored violence and that they cannot act with impunity. An ICC investigation could force the regime to re-evaluate its logic.

The International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction in Egypt, which has not ratified the treaty that created the court. The only way that crimes against humanity in Egypt could fall under the court’s jurisdiction is by an act of the Security Council.

It is time for the USA and Security Council to seriously consider this option. There is nothing much holding back the military regime right now. The USA has so far refused to cut aid to Egypt, but even if it did other countries would be quick to step in with financial support.

The ICC is not the only tool to stem violence in Egypt– it is certainly no magic bullet. But given the shrinking leverage Washington has over Cairo these days, the threat of an ICC investigation is one possible way to add a degree of restraint into the events unfolding in Egypt.