The Rights Stuff

Who's Getting Screwed by Ohio's Budget Cuts?

| Tue Jun. 14, 2011 10:01 AM PDT

Editors' note: Mac McClelland is spending a month in her home state of Ohio, reporting on the Wisconsin-style showdown involving Republican Governor John Kasich, public employees, unions, teachers, students, and struggling middle-class families.  

Wildly unpopular Republican Ohio governor John Kasich has a proposal: to cut $8 billion from his state's 2011-2013 budget. Despite plenty of controversy since he unveiled the plan in March, both the Republican-controlled state House and Senate have passed versions of it. The only thing left to do is sort out the differences in conference committee before final passage at the end of the month.

While Kasich is indeed facing a gaping budget hole (though some say he's exaggerating its size), many argue that the reforms unfairly punish lower-income Ohioans. Democratic representatives say it "balances the budget on the backs of the middle class." One provision gets rid of the estate tax, which applies to only the top eight percent of estates, and another would enact income-tax cuts that return way more money to Ohio's top earners. Let's break down who's carrying the bulk of the proposed budget's burdens:

State workers: Local governments are probably the biggest losers in Kasich's budget, losing 50 percent of their funding by the second year of the plan. And prison workers worry that the provision to sell off Ohio's prisons will lead to layoffs. Altogether, a report by think tank Innovation Ohio estimates, the budget will cause a loss of 51,000 state jobs.

People who enjoy learning and/or teaching stuff: Education loses 11.5 percent of its current funding in the Kasich budget. According to the Ohio Education Association, that would mean firing 10,000 teachers. Cleveland schools are already planning to lay off at least 500 educators. At the university level, the cuts average 13 percent. Ohio State, one of the largest universities in the nation, soon will be presenting its plan to account for the deficit to its board. Spokeswoman Shelly Hoffman says the budget-balancing measures include early retirements, not filling vacancies, and raising tuition for the second year in a row.

People who go to libraries or whose houses catch on fire: Mike Gillis, communications director of the AFL-CIO, says the union's concerns with the budget are "too long to list," but that problem number one is "definitely the massive loss of public sector jobs." Those cuts won't just affect state workers. Library funding, for example, will be cut 5 percent, on top of a 30 percent cut since 2000, while demand for services has grown 23 percent in the same period. And since a lot of Ohio cities spend much of their funds on public safety, cuts to local governments mean big hits to fire and police departments. Like in Circleville, where Mayor Chuck Taylor is fretting about how to maintain the town's infrastructure. "We're cut to the bone now," he told the Columbus Dispatch. "I don't know what we are going to do. It's going to be devastating to us, to be honest."

Women who need an abortion: In a bizarre move—in that it's not meant to save money—the Senate slipped limits to abortion access into its version of the bill last week. One provision bans unincorporated (read: mostly rural) counties from covering abortion in their employee insurance plans. Another bans publicly funded hospitals from performing the procedure. That affects "pretty much all the public hospitals in the state," says Ohio NARAL's Kellie Copeland. "Some of them are the top hospitals in the state, who have top OB-GYNs who specialize in high-risk pregnancies." Exceptions will be made in cases of rape, incest, or when a woman's life is in danger. Republican lawmakers say these measures will keep taxpayer dollars from going toward abortions. Copeland says they don't, since taxpayer dollars are legally banned from going toward abortions in Ohio; procedures at public hospitals already have to be paid with private funds.

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The Best Place to Work in Ohio

| Mon Jun. 13, 2011 7:44 AM PDT

Editors' note: Mac McClelland is spending a month in her home state of Ohio, reporting on the Wisconsin-style showdown involving Republican Governor John Kasich, public employees, unions, teachers, students, and struggling middle-class families.

Over at the house I'm staying at in Gahanna, Ohio, everything's a little on edge.

"I'm freaking out," Erin, the lady of the house, told me on Friday. Very calmly and quietly.

"You don't look like you're freaking out," I said.

"I'm trying not to." Maybe because there was a 10-month-old skirting her feet at the moment. The day before, though, she'd turned in the paperwork to switch her family over to her insurance just in case her husband, Anthony, loses his job at the Ohio Consumer's Counsel, whose budget Governor John Kasich has proposed cutting by 51 percent. On her way home, she cried in the car for an hour while the baby, Jocelyn, was sleeping in the backseat.

That night, Anthony went straight back to work on their laptop when he got home from the office. While Erin and I watched a reality cooking show, Jocelyn toddled over to him. She's got a thing for electronics; no cell phone or remote control in her vicinity is safe. So she reached up to the computer and started tugging on the plug. "Could you not, uh," Anthony said, waving her baby-fingers away. She made a mad-baby face. "I know. I'm sorry. But I'm kinda trying to find a job."

Yesterday, Anthony shared some good news. Right now, the state budget's in conference committee, where the House and Senate are trying to reconcile their versions. And according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Anthony's boss at the OCC is trying to make a deal with lawmakers that would keep her office's funding at 75 percent. In return, along with instituting some other changes, she would resign. A lot of the reason for the OCC cut is that the state is broke. But part of it is, apparently, that lawmakers also don't like her.

Last night, a guy I knew when I was at Ohio State pointed out one industry around here that's not suffering cutbacks: defense. I hadn't seen him since I left 10 years ago, and when I stopped by his house last night he explained the security of working in weapons-systems support for the federal government. Every time they develop a bigger, more armored vehicle, he said, the enemy figures out how to blow it up, requiring a project to develop an even bigger, more more-armored vehicle. And with all the waste and padded budgets everyone's always talking about in the defense industry. "I think if I didn't go to work for a month nobody would notice," he said.

So. No economic-apocalypse effects here in his neck of the woods?

"Noooooo," he replied. "This kind of government job isn't affected by cutbacks. It's flourishing."

Friday Copycat Blogging

| Fri Jun. 10, 2011 11:59 AM PDT

Editors' note: Mac McClelland is spending a month in her home state of Ohio, reporting on the Wisconsin-style showdown involving Republican Governor John Kasich, public employees, unions, teachers, students, and struggling middle-class families.  

I'm borrowing this meme from my esteemed colleague Kevin Drum today, in the interest of introducing someone.

This is my tormentor:

His name, as mentioned before, is Barack Obama. He's one of two cats belonging to the family I'm staying with while reporting from Ohio. Barack Obama parks himself on my dominant arm while I'm trying to work. He cuddles up against me while I'm trying to keep my cat allergies under control. He learned how to open my bedroom door at four in the morning, and made me suspicious about a mysterious puddle I stepped in on the kitchen floor.

Yesterday, though, Barack Obama earned my respect. As it turns out, he has a tormentor too. Her name is Jocelyn.

She eats his food (which is upsetting for the parents as well as the cat). She makes him the subject of her preferred game, which is slapping people in the face with toys and DVD cases. Then last night, while he was taking a nap, she toddled over to him and, with the full force of an unsteady baby-run behind her, threw herself onto his back.

Photo: Erin RodriguezPhoto: Erin Rodriguez

Barack Obama just lay there, wincing, enduring her ignorance about how uncomfortable this might be. Watching him, I thought maybe I didn't give him enough credit. I mean, I wouldn't attack a baby, either, but I still feel like there's a lesson to be learned about patience and tolerance here. So props to Barack Obama, whom I will push off my lap with extra gentleness 47 times today. He's good people.

"No Jobs To Be HAD"

| Thu Jun. 9, 2011 8:40 AM PDT

Editors' note: Mac McClelland is spending a month in her home state of Ohio, reporting on the Wisconsin-style showdown involving Republican Governor John Kasich, public employees, unions, teachers, students, and struggling middle-class families.   

Yesterday I did something I haven't done in a really long time: went to school. Middle school. My new/temporary landlord/roommate/reporting subject, Erin, teaches outside Columbus, and I joined her for one of the last days of class before school lets out for summer.

Out here, the public schools spend nearly 20 percent less per student than the national average. The lack of resources can be challenging—one local school closed down because its AC broke and the summer heat was too sweltering for the kids. Erin's school doesn't even have AC, but she loves loves loves her job. As a writing teacher, she brought me in to talk to her students about what it's like to be a professional writer. So I spent the day fielding some excellent questions (as well as a couple of racist and homophobic ones) from her seventh and eighth graders. I also heard about their plans for the summer. Lots of them have jobs, mostly with companies or farms owned by their families. Some of those without those types of connections are having more trouble finding work, not totally surprising since job growth in this town is -4.6 percent. As one 14-year-old explained his failure to land summer employment despite having applied at several places, "No jobs to be HAD."

When Anthony, Erin's husband, got home last night, he told me he'd spent the day talking about employment as well. Since he and so many of his coworkers at the Ohio Consumers' Counsel are facing layoffs under Gov. Kasich's proposed budget cuts, his office had brought in people to talk to them about resources for getting new jobs, like résumé services. Anthony has started searching for alternate work, but hasn't had any more luck than the 14-year-old yet.

Since Kasich's budget also targets schools, I asked Erin if she's concerned that the threat of becoming a single-income household could actually be a threat of becoming a no-income household. Her school recently had to lay off a couple of teachers already, and cut a few more to half-time. But she thinks her position is secure. Ohio is one of the states where teacher seniority is protected by law, a law that teachers' unions are fighting to defend. So it's a good thing Erin's been teaching for eight years. The bad news is that the governor's trying to cut her union's power, too.

Greetings From Ohio

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 12:25 PM PDT

This is going to be a little bit different than my last assignment, which looked like this:

Photo: Joey Shemuel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My new one looks like this:

That's my room for the next month. I'm in Gahanna, Ohio, which, the welcome sign at the edge of this Columbus suburb notes, was one of the Top 100 Places to Live according to Money magazine in 2007. Ohio's new Republican governor, John Kasich (currently a contender for the most unpopular governor in the country) is gearing up to make some big changes around here. This month state legislators will come to an agreement on Kaisch's great big budget cuts, mostly to local governments. He is also proposing to dismantle unions' bargaining abilities, the cause of much protesting. He also wants to divert profits from state alcohol sales to a "jobs creating" semi-venture-capital fund he heads.

For the next four weeks, I'll be covering these developments, while spending some quality time with people who work for the state, college students, university administrators who are about to see their budgets slashed, and local politicians (if they'll talk to me).

But first, meet the folks who have agreed to take me on as a boarder/annoying journalistic presence. Erin Rodriguez was Erin Goodrich when I knew her at my undergrad alma mater Ohio State. She turns 31 next week, and teaches at a public middle school in a rural town outside Columbus. Her husband Anthony is a public information specialist at the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC), an agency that advocates for customers in complaints, regulatory hearings, and court cases involving utility companies. They recently bought a three-bedroom house. (Katie, the subject of the American Girl stenciling in my bedroom, belonged to the previous owners.)

Running the house is Jocelyn, a supercute (even if you're not really into babies) and delightfully unfussy 10-month-old. These are the house rules I was given when I arrived yesterday:

1. Don't hurt the baby.

2. The baby is the boss.

2a. "Don't worry if you swear around the baby, but don't just be screaming random expletives. And don't swear at the baby."

Rounding out the family are a big gray cat named Princess Vespa, and a black one that the four-year-old Erin adopted it from had christened Barack Obama. Barack Obama will not stop rubbing up against me even though I'm violently allergic to cats.

Last night, Erin and I drove around my new digs, which she describes as "pretty typical suburbia." Gahanna is a solidly middle-class suburb. Lots of green lawns and trees, lots of shopping centers. It's not like some of the more bourgeois suburbs around here, Erin explained, "as evidenced by the lack of a Whole Foods"—which I'd inquired about. (Though I'm originally from Ohio, this and a question about the availability of composting prompted a lot of mocking about how I now live in California.)

We pulled back into the driveway at the same time as Anthony. He'd had a long day; that evening there had been a public meeting about the local electric company's planned rate hike. Things are busy at the office, too. In addition to the usual business, he has to move his desk; the office is being consolidated to one floor from two. Kasich's original budget draft called for a 51 percent cut to the OCC. The state Senate has proposed softening it to fortysomething percent, but a ton of layoffs are still on the table. "We're in that mode," Anthony says of himself and his coworkers, "where we're like, What the hell are we going to do?"

With his job up in the air, Anthony's been doing as much freelance consulting as possible. When we all got home at 8:30, he got back on his laptop to get some work done. As much as he could, anyway. Erin and I failed to sufficiently preoccupy the baby, who kept pointing at and asking for her dad. He took a break, to pick her up, singing us a soothing little song while he paced the family room carpet with Jocelyn in his arms.

Fact-Checking Haiti's Death Toll

| Wed Jun. 1, 2011 3:47 PM PDT

We've all heard the numbers quantifying the horror of Haiti's 2010 earthquake: more than 300,000 dead, a million left homeless. Now a report is calling those figures into question.

The unpublished survey, commissioned by the US Agency for International Development, puts the death toll between 46,000 and 85,000. It also says there are 375,000 people still living in tent camps, whereas the International Organization for Migration, which does a lot of work with the displaced in Haiti, says there's 680,000. The Haitian government is standing by the higher numbers. A State Department spokeswoman says the report still has some inconsistencies. USAID's Haiti mission director says the commission that did the report isn't really qualified to settle the dispute. When I was in Haiti the first time, I heard some local businessmen laughing about how there was no way the death toll and the homelessness rate could possibly be as high as their government was claiming.

Now, I loooove me some fact-checking, but I'm having trouble getting worked up about this dispute. I understand it's important for the sake of, like, history. Also, analysts say the lower numbers might affect the plan to pump billions of dollars into the country for aid and reconstruction. I think it's a game-changer when a report concludes that, say, the war in Iraq killed 100,000 Iraqis in the first 18 months, rather than a widely reported 19,000. But whether 400,000 Haitians are displaced instead of 800,000 doesn't really change the overall fuckedness of the situation for me in this case. Either way, huge pieces of the entire country still need to be rebuilt. Either way, lots and lots of promised help still hasn't arrived. And honestly those displacement camps are so impossibly awful that nine people still living in them a year and a half after the quake would be cause for concern. Whichever way the dispute settles, hopefully it won't further impede the abysmal progress in the country's reconstruction.

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ICC Prosecutor Seeks Qaddafi Arrest Warrant

| Mon May. 16, 2011 6:41 AM PDT

International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, who is investigating crimes against humanity in Libya, has requested arrest warrants for the country's dictator Muammar Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and Qaddafi's head of military intelligence and brother-in-law, Abdullah al-Sanousi.

"The evidence shows that Muammar Qaddafi personally ordered attacks on unarmed Libyan civilians," Ocampo said in a press conference in The Hague a couple hours ago. "His forces attacked Libyan civilians in their homes and in the public space, shot demonstrators with live ammunition, used heavy weaponry against participants in funeral processions, and placed snipers to kill those leaving mosques after the prayers." Therefore, "the prosecution has applied to Pre-Trial Chamber I for the issuance of arrest warrants" against the three Libyan officials the court found to be most responsible.

What does that mean, exactly? Now, the judges can accept the warrant request, reject it, or ask for more evidence. Though this has, in the past, taken months, a source at the court speculated that the ICC could decide on Ocampo's request within weeks. If the warrants are issued, the ICC has no power to enforce them; today Ocampo called on Libyan forces to make the arrests. (Libya is a member of the UN, the UN referred this case to the ICC in Resolution 1970, and Libyans will have the duty to take care of business, he explained.) "Libyans can implement the arrest warrants," Ocampo said, "and I think they will do it."

In the meantime, the Libya investigation continues. ICC investigators—who collected the evidence for this warrant request in a fairly awesome process—are still looking into allegations of attacks on Africans wrongly perceived to be mercenaries and war crimes committed by Libyan parties outside the government. Ocampo has also vowed to investigate allegations of widespread sexual violence. Witnesses have said, for example, that rebels are finding Viagra on Libyan soldiers, who are using it as a gang-rape aid.

For security (of the witnesses; the ICC doesn't have a witness protection program), investigators are not allowed to interview anyone who hasn't yet fled Libya. Still, heinous allegations continue to pile up. Though the witnesses are afraid for themselves and their families, one of the investigators told me, they are very enthusiastic about cooperating. "People have a lot of hope, and are waiting to see what happens from our side," he said. "They're looking forward to getting some results." Historically, the ICC has had an uneven track record of bringing war criminals to justice, but to the witnesses, the fact that anyone's even examining the evidence is a step in the right direction. "There have been in Libya no investigations for a long time," the investigator said. "And there have been a lot of crimes. So this is a big change."

A Nuremberg for Libya?

| Sun May. 15, 2011 11:54 AM PDT

It's a gloomy Sunday in the Netherlands, and the people who work at a stark, sterile office building 15 floors high at Maanweg 174, The Hague, are kind of freaking out. Yesterday, the email system crashed, again; supersecure documents had to be shared in person, hand-delivered. The language for the press statement hasn't been finalized. Tomorrow, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court will deliver a 64-page arrest-warrant request for three top Libyan officials. "You're going to kill us," the investigations coordinator laughed exhaustedly to the chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, when he said he wouldn't finish the final changes until the morning of the case's unveiling. "I'm nervous," one of the other staffers told her boss. The prosecutor himself is all worked up, too. "This is huge," he's been telling me for days. "Huge. Huge."

I'm here to witness it partly because, Moreno says, I "humiliated" him during our interview two weeks ago in New York. There, I confronted him with information about the ICC's prosecution of a warlord that he should have known, but didn't. Ocampo stared at me unhappily for a long time, then said, "Fuck. FUCK. We should do better." Later, with the ICC getting ready with its high-profile Libya warrants, he offered to bring me back to The Hague—where I'd visited the ICC just a month earlier—to see the court in action. Yesterday, it was his turn to ask questions. Was there anything that would make his argument that members of the Libyan government are perpetrating crimes against humanity more compelling? Should he use the pictures of people literally cut in half by machine-gun fire? When I expressed doubts that I was in a position to provide such advice, Ocampo said I was a stand-in for the global audience to whom he was about to release his case. "You're perfect," he said, "because you're ignorant."

Although not quite so ignorant as before. I'll confess that before starting my month of reporting on the independent, international-treaty-based ICC, I had the sense that the court existed mostly just for show. In the nine years since its creation, it has handed down not a single conviction; the first trial commenced in January 2009, and is still going on; the court has no power to arrest anyone and must rely on member states to apprehend often seemingly untouchable figures. Seven of the 23 alleged criminals with warrants or summonses to appear remain at large. But when I was in Congo a few weeks ago, several sources told me that the Congolese warlord whom the court had indicted was terrified of being arrested. The warrant, the sources said, had made him simultaneously more skittish and possibly more interested in killing potential witnesses. When I was in Uganda shortly thereafter, supporters of the recently defeated presidential opposition led protests that the army met with bullets; not everyone was as lucky to escape them as the people running past me down the sidewalk. That night, I listened to Ugandans talk about how the International Criminal Court would be putting all this in the file of their violently repressive president. Somewhere, they reassured themselves, the principle of justice was alive. "Ocampo will be building a case," my fixer told me.

The case against the Libyans, the prosecutor's office says, is its strongest yet. One count of persecution, one count of murder constituting a crime against humanity (which means it occurred in the context of a systematic or widespread attack on civilians—in this case, it's allegedly both). The evidence-collection process sounds like a movie plot: The court collaborated with INTERPOL, which provided immigration lists of Libyans who'd arrived in other countries. The ICC tried to determine, based on the timing of the immigrants' arrival, which ones might have fled for war-crimes-related reasons. Then ICC investigators were dispatched around the world to track those people down and interview them. (When I tell Ocampo I want that job, he warns that it will crush my spirit. In my current life, when a witness targeted by a warlord promises me that he'll be murdered if I don't get him expatriated, I can say, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm just a reporter." When Sudanese women drop their babies through the car window of an ICC investigator—insisting that they will die if he doesn't take them with him, he—under the court's strict security and confidentiality rules—isn't even allowed to explain why he can't.)

Some of the 51 witnesses cited in the Libya indictment didn't have to be tracked down. Some of them, insiders with direct knowledge of the crimes, tracked the ICC down after Ocampo briefed the Security Council on his plan to request warrants. This is the kind of pressure Ocampo and his office hope will continue building once the warrants are out. "Maybe I'm dreaming," he said yesterday, but ideally the specter of ICC prosecution will lead to more defections, and eventually a collapse of the regime and/or arrest of the bad guys.

Of course there are those who think this is the stupidest thing they've ever heard. "That sounds like total fantasy," Stephen Rademaker told me yesterday. He was an assistant secretary of state under Bush, and has been one of the ICC's (many) very vocal critics. Since ICC member parties are obligated to arrest indicted criminals on their soil, he says an ICC warrant against Qaddafi would make the leader way less likely to leave power peacefully. In 2007, he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the Security Council's decision to refer Sudan to the ICC would complicate peace negotiations with Khartoum and exacerbate genocide. He says that diplomats will attest that the ICC's indictment of president Omar al-Bashir hasn't halted human rights violations but did indeed make it more difficult to negotiate with Sudan. Indicting Libyan leaders, he says, will result in the same.

Then again, as far as the ICC is concerned, it wouldn't matter if he were right. The court's stated principle is that it can't sacrifice justice for peace. "How many Libyans have to die," Rademaker asked me, "in vindication of that principle?" War criminals should be prosecuted, he says. But not until the conflict is over, when there's no chance of the prosecution leading to worse crimes.

The speed with which the Security Council—which must refer a case like Libya's to the ICC before it can investigate—acted, and the speed with which the ICC moved, is one of the things the prosecutor's office is most proud of. It's unprecedented, a radical departure from holding nobody accountable in real time during, say, the Rwandan genocide. In theory, if Qaddafi were indicted, he could be arrested. In theory, if he were arrested and Libyans were no longer being killed, the Security Council would have done a bang-up job honoring its responsibility to protect civilians from crimes against humanity.

At this point, the very controversy over the Libyan indictment shows one thing: The fledgling court has grown into a center of power, whether you believe that its exercise of that power will make things better or worse. And on that score, the Libya case is huge, indeed—its outcome will be a turning point in settling that question.

Will the ICC Come After Qaddafi?

| Tue May. 10, 2011 2:44 PM PDT

Last Wednesday, Luis Moreno Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, told the UN Security Council that the results of the investigation he'd requested into Libya were in: Members of the Qaddafi government had allegedly perpetrated crimes against humanity. Further, he said he was going to request three arrest warrants from the court. For whom, he wouldn't say. Even when I asked him after he'd had a Bellini at the end of that long day.

Last night, Al Arabiya reported that two of the three warrants would be for Muammar Qaddafi and his son Saif. If true, this wouldn't be the first time the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for a head of state. Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir was slapped with one in 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and got another for genocide last year. Those warrants led Bashir to throw a bunch of aid workers out of his country, and isolated him from some parts of the international community. (Shortly after the first warrant was issued, he canceled a trip to neighboring Uganda, an ICC member state.)

UN Dispatch's Mark Leon Goldberg posits that this time, though, indicting a head of state wouldn't really make any difference. "Qaddafi is already a man in hiding," he writes, "so it is hard to see how this impending arrest warrant will have any near-term consequences for the situation on the ground in Libya."

Ocampo, for his part, still won't say if Qaddafi's on the shitlist. "Don't trust rumors," he said simply when I asked him via email about the Al Arabiya report. But he would say that he thinks the repercussions of the soon-to-be-unveiled case will be huge. Tonight, I'm headed back to Europe to witness the preparations for further announcements about the case on next Monday.

The speed of the Libya case already makes it stand out from the court's nine-year history. In the case of Sudan, the conflict went on for years, and then the Security Council deliberated for three months before referring the case to the ICC. In Libya? "Ten days of conflict, two days of discussion," Ocampo likes to say. The next thing he said is the only thing I heard him repeat more frequently during our interview in New York last week: "The world is changing."

7 Questions About the International Criminal Court Answered

| Fri Apr. 8, 2011 3:00 AM PDT
The ICC's headquarters in The Hague.

As mentioned earlier, this week I'm in The Hague, doing some reporting at the International Criminal Court. Since a lot of people seem to have only the vaguest sense of what it is, and because I've learned some interesting facts since I got here, I put together a quick primer that answers a few of your burning ICC-related questions.

What is the International Criminal Court?
It's the world's first permanent court set up to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. It was established in 2002, when its founding Rome Statute Treaty, which 114 states are party to, went into effect. It is located in The Hague, the Netherlands. It is not housed in a big fabulous structure with marble floors, but in an old corporate office building, the former parking garage of which holds the actual courtrooms.

How does something end up at trial in the ICC?
One of three ways. A case can be referred to the ICC by a member state. Or crimes in a non-member state can be referred to the court by the United Nations Security Council, as in the recent case of Libya. Or anyone can give the Office of the Prosecutor information that gives cause to look into it. If a resulting investigation shows war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, and the state in which they occur is unwilling or unable to prosecute the case itself, the "court of last resort" ICC can issue warrants of arrest or summons to appear.

In what countries is the ICC currently investigating crimes?
Despite criticisms that the ICC only tries Africans, which is so far/currently true, it is looking into cases in Afghanistan, Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, Georgia, Palestine, Guinea, Honduras, Nigeria, and South Korea.

Are there any trials going on now?
Yeah, against Congolese alleged war-crimes perpetrators Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo. Except on days where testimony is too sensitive, as when a witness could be in particular danger of retribution, the trials are open to the public.

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo: Nico Colombant/VOA news/WikimediaJean-Pierre Bemba Gombo in 2006. Nico Colombant/VOA news/Wikimedia

Am I allowed to wear "provocative" clothing to go watch a war-crimes trial?
No.

What happens if I pull my cell phone out when I'm in the observation gallery while court is in session?
Any testimony that a witness is giving is considered compromised and automatically canceled, and that witness is not allowed to testify anymore.

Am I allowed to mean-mug Jean-Pierre Bemba, on trial for multiple counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes of rape, murder, and pillaging, from a few feet away in the observation gallery, while he sits watching the proceedings against him with his cantaloupe head calmly sunk into hunched shoulders?
Yes. Although he will, however many times his eyes flicker over toward your face, never meet your gaze.