The Progressing Proposal for An International Anti-Corruption Court

I. Introduction

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Mark L. Wolf, Richard J. Goldstone, and Robert I. Rotberg

In 1945, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson gave a speech to the American Society of International Law (ASIL) that became a roadmap for the creation of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. The tribunal, which fairly and effectively tried alleged Nazi war criminals, itself became the foundation for international courts to enforce international criminal law, ensuring that guilty individuals can be held accountable for their crimes. At the outset of his address, Justice Jackson said to the assembled international lawyers,

You are aware of the confusions, of the incompleteness, of the lack of ordinary sanctions, and of all that might be said in criticism of international law. Yet you are here . . . to reiterate your inveterate belief that international law . . . offers the only hopeful foundation for an organized community of nations.1

Justice Jackson was referring to the then-urgent need to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Today, his words are equally applicable to the urgent need to create an effective means to prosecute the perpetrators of grand corruption: that is, an International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC).

Grand corruption—the abuse of public office for private gain by a nation’s leaders (kleptocrats)—is a major barrier to meeting the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, responding effectively to pandemics, fighting climate change, promoting democracy and human rights, establishing international peace and security, and securing a more just, rules-based global order.2 Grand corruption does not endure due to a lack of anti-corruption laws. One hundred and eighty-one countries are party to the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which requires them to have laws criminalizing varying forms of corruption.3 However, corrupt Heads of State and Government, and many other corrupt senior government officials, are able to commit their crimes with impunity in their own countries because they control the police, prosecutors, and courts.

At present, there is no international institution to hold kleptocrats accountable for their crimes of corruption when the countries they rule are unwilling or unable to do so. An IACC would, therefore, fill the crucial enforcement gap in the international framework for combatting grand corruption. It would constitute a fair and effective forum for the prosecution and punishment of kleptocrats and their collaborators; deter others tempted to emulate their example; and recover, repatriate, and repurpose ill-gotten gains for the victims of grand corruption.