The International Criminal Court, Sitting Heads of State Prosecutions, and the Paradox of the Balance of Power

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The practice of prosecuting sitting Heads of State by the International Criminal Court (ICC) was designed to revolutionise international politics by claiming that there are crimes of such magnitude that the perpetrators should be punished, regardless of their status. However, the record of the implementation of this practice is worrying: out of 3 situations (al Bashir in Sudan; Kenyatta in Kenya; and Gaddafi in Libya) not even one was finalised. This paper focuses on the Libyan and Syrian cases to underline how the transition between the two is exemplificative of a paradoxical dynamic: international law is more efficient in situations of balance of power; but violations of international law are, in specific cases, used to rectify it. This apparently paradoxical proposition will be supported introducing the idea that, besides their mandates, international organisations (IOs) channel disagreement on the fundamental norms that should shape interstate relationships, acting as decompression valves for malcontent in international society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465–481
Number of pages16
JournalBritish Journal of American Legal Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2019


  • International Relations
  • International Law
  • International Criminal Court
  • Legalism
  • Pragmatism

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