Last February, soon after Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi unleashed his forces against civilian protesters, the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to refer the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court. Days later, the ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, announced the launch of an investigation of members of the Qaddafi regime, promising, "There will be no impunity in Libya."
With the UN Security Council injecting the court into one of the year's biggest stories, the ICC may seem to have become an indispensable international player. It already is looking into some of the gravest atrocities committed in recent decades -- in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Uganda, among others -- and its investigation into the 2007 election-related violence in Kenya is shaking up that country's elite. But a closer look suggests that the ICC's sleek office building on the outskirts of The Hague houses an institution that is still struggling to find its footing almost a decade after its creation.
The court has failed to complete even one trial, frustrating victims as well as the dozens of governments that have contributed close to $1 billion to its budget since 2003. The ICC's first trial was nearly dismissed twice. Its highest-profile suspects -- Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), the rebel group that has terrorized northern Uganda and neighboring areas -- have thumbed their noses at the court and are evading arrest. And with all six of the ICC's investigations involving abuses in Africa, its reputation as a truly international tribunal is in question.
A rare opportunity to recapture the court's early promise lies ahead: at the end of the year, the 114 states that have ratified the Rome Statute, the ICC's founding charter, will elect a successor to Moreno-Ocampo, who is expected to step down as head of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) in mid-2012. As the ICC's driving force and its face to the world, the chief prosecutor has a