What is it about?

International institutions, like the International Criminal Court (ICC), are governed through strict hierarchies: chief prosecutors, in particular, play a crucial role, and great importance is attached to their personality and individual leadership skills. This article takes the recent and highly contested election process of the third ICC Prosecutor, Karim Khan, who was appointed for a period of nine years in 2021, as a case study to reconsider the well-known yet enduring problem of the democratic deficit of international institutions and their at times undemocratic, or even authoritarian-like, decision-making processes. It starts by demonstrating the great attention given to the Prosecutor as an individual, both in the statute of the ICC and in legal and political discourses more generally. This will lay the groundwork to develop the argument that this strong focus on certain individuals is highly problematic and does not contribute to increasing the legitimacy of the Court, whatever the reputation, skills and actual conduct of the official in question. Finally, the article seeks inspiration from democracy theory, in particular relevant research that has engaged with international institutions, to suggest that the Office of the Prosecutor could be directed not by an almighty chief, but rather by a college of prosecutors.

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Why is it important?

The International Criminal Court, and in particular its Prosecutors, has experienced a lot of criticism since its establishment in 2002. This article argues that the democratic deficit within the institution can explain some of these challenges and criticisms and suggests that the Office of the Prosecutor should not be directed by an almighty chief.

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This page is a summary of: The International Prosecutor: Reconsidering an Almighty Saviour? On International Criminal Law’s Obsession with Individuals, International Criminal Law Review, April 2022, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/15718123-bja10133.
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