The U.S. is currently participating in the Review Conference for the International Criminal Court in Kampala, Uganda, at which three amendments are under consideration that would negatively affect U.S. interests if passed.

Regardless of what happens in Kampala, the Obama administration has said that it will not seek ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Court. However, a number of non-governmental organizations ardently support the International Criminal Court and continue to urge the U.S. to join. There are numerous legal and policy objections to such a course of action. However, as a recent story in the New York Times illustrates, there are plenty of other reasons to be cautious about joining the ICC – starting with its peculiar and expansive interpretation of the rights of those accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.

The story details the luxurious conditions enjoyed by those incarcerated in The Hague who are undergoing trial or awaiting trial by the ICC (and the other international tribunals based in The Hague – the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The article observes that “former Congolese warlords, Serbian militia leaders and a former Liberian president accused of instigating murder, rape and enslavement are confined in two detention centers with private cells stocked like college dormitories, with wooden bookcases, television sets and personal computers. Among the other amenities are a gym, a trainer, a spiritual room and a common kitchen.”

Among the other perks of incarceration for the accused:

  • Free legal aid at a monthly cost of about $43,000.
  • Travel subsidies of tens of thousands of dollars for family visits. According to the story, “The first to tap family travel funds, back in 2006, were the wife and five children of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, 49, a former rebel leader from the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, who is accused of enslaving child soldiers who were forced to rape, kill and plunder. The court paid more than $16,000 in expenses covering air fare from Kinshasa, two hotel rooms for 15 nights, temporary medical insurance, passport and visa fees and a daily “dignity allowance” of $24 for adults and $12 for children. Court officials also provided winter clothes and a babysitter for the children.” Another Congolese prisoner, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, has a travel budget of over $31,000 in 2010.
  • The rules permit conjugal visits. As a result, several detainees have become new fathers while incarcerated, including a Serbian general and Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia charged with war crimes by the Sierra Leone court, whose baby girl was born in February.

While the accused should be treated humanely, they are not entitled to luxury.  Indeed, a number of countries are questioning why those held by international tribunals – many of whom are charged with the most heinous crimes imaginable – should receive benefits that exceed those provided the accused in their own countries. Specifically, “France, Italy and smaller states [argue] that the nations financing the courts should not be covering benefits that they do not provide in their own prisons — and do not want to. What precedent might be set, they ask, if they contribute to these provisions here?”

The pro-ICC NGOs would have you ignore this embarrassingly poor judgment on the part of the ICC and other international courts. According to the Coalition for an International Criminal Court, “Our message was let’s not make a big deal about this. It’s not a lot of money. It’s part of keeping the detainees happy or, I don’t know the word — managing — the detainees. The court is still very young and the decision was from just one case. It was blown out of proportion.”

Indeed, the cost of these privileges is only a small part of the $124 million ICC budget, but “the dispute is scratching at bigger concerns about costly legal processes that have dragged on, yielded no convictions and put a lot of focus on the benefits at the detention facilities, which some critics mock as the Hague Hilton.”

If the U.S. were to join the ICC, it would likely be expected to pay for 22 percent of the budget of the ICC – the same amount that it pays for the U.N. regular budget – including all of these perks. Meanwhile, the U.S. is already the largest contributor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone which is providing these perks for Charles Taylor.