During last night’s final presidential debate, Governor Mitt Romney repeated a goal listed on his website: to have Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad charged with promoting genocide. The statement, intended to illustrate how much tougher Romney would be in confronting Iran over its nuclear program, instead shows several ways in which he and his campaign team neither understand the political structure of Iran nor the international justice system.
Romney was clear last night about the steps he would take diplomatically to ensure Iran’s isolation, saving his harshest terms for Ahmadinejad:
ROMNEY: Secondly, I’d take on diplomatic isolation efforts. I’d make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it. I would also make sure that their diplomats are treated like the pariah they are around the world. The same way we treated the apartheid diplomats of South Africa.
When asked after the debate about Romney’s genocide declaration, his advisers suggested that Ahmadinejad could be tried at the “World Court“:
According to Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, successfully indicting Ahmadinejad would be more than just a symbolic victory.
“I think it would remove probably one of the most anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, pro-genocide members of that regime in Tehran,” he told TPM after the debate. As to whether he would actually be arrested: “I’m hoping that he would be indicted and that action would unfold following that indictment. Absolutely.”
The Romney team seems discouragingly uninformed when it comes to international law, which their candidate reflected on stage. The World Court, another name for the International Court of Justice, was founded as part of the United Nations in 1945, with its headquarters in the Hague. A continuation of the Permanent Court of International Justice under the League of Nations, the ICJ settles legal disputes between states on matters such as border disputes and the use of force. Unfortunately for the Romney team, the ICJ only tries states, not individuals like Ahmadinejad.
What the campaign could have been referring to instead is the International Criminal Court, created in 2002 for just such a purpose. Its founding document, the Rome Statute, does indeed cover incitement of genocide as one of the crimes against humanity that it is able to hear. An indictment of a sitting President, such as that of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir in 2009, could take place under the Rome Statute, or the 1948 Genocide Convention as Romney seems to wish.