The Sun Climbs Slow: Justice in the Age of Imperial America

By Erna Paris. Knopf Canada, 375 pp, $35, hardcover

Its inauguration can be considered a step forward in the evolution of international order, a leap toward a utopian vision of accountability where all are held equal by the rule of law. Universal justice, writes acclaimed Canadian writer Erna Paris, is the realization of “the ancient dream of humanity”.

The Sun Climbs Slow tells the story of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It begins 2,400 years ago with the Peloponnesian War, fought between Athens and Sparta. The war sparked a debate that continues today: does “might make right”, as is observable today, Paris argues, in the go-it-alone mentality of the U.S.? Or should nations follow an international code of conduct?

Slowly but surely, the world has seen law triumph over power. In the late 1940s, the revolutionary Nuremberg Trials brought the worst offenders of the Nazi regime to justice. Fifty years later, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia put Slobodan Miloševic and others on trial for crimes against humanity. And in 1997, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda began proceedings against those responsible for a genocide that saw 800,000 people murdered in less than 100 days.

The ICC was inaugurated in March 2003. If all goes according to plan, in June 2008 the Congo’s Thomas Lubanga will face charges of conscripting child soldiers. He will be the first person in history to be tried by a permanent international court.

No one ever thought the ICC would get anywhere. The court isn’t a temporary body formed to settle a particular issue, nor is it responsible to the United Nations Security Council. Arguments that the court would infringe on national sovereignty were all but assured to stifle any momentum the court was able to gain.

On this front, Paris details the U.S. government’s efforts to derail the ICC, which continue to be made with great zeal. She spends an entire chapter on the court’s greatest opponent, John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the UN from August 2005 to December 2006. “He practised ”˜diplomatic redneckery’,” Paris writes, “breaking down the doors of international conference rooms with his guns already blazing.”

It is with this passion that Paris approaches her work. She describes conversations with ICC judges and U.S. officials with the pen of a gifted storyteller, interweaving comedy-filled anecdotes with meetings at the UN and the U.S. State Department. The result is a first-person, highly personal account of the ICC’s history that reads like a novel.