Fatou Bensouda

Ocampo And Bensouda Are Clowns

It is a sad state of affairs when the International Criminal Court and its behaviour since it was established in 2002 can be described as the “McDonaldization” of justice. It is however a very apt analogy. “McDonaldization” is defined by American sociologist George Ritzer as “the [bureaucratic] process by which principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world”. Professor Robert Bohm has written of the “McDonaldization” of justice with regard to American justice.1 His observations apply equally to the ICC.

As Bohm points out, the principal problem with McDonaldized institutions, and another characteristic of the process, is irrationality. Ritzer calls this phenomena the “irrationality of rationality.” Bohm states that McDonaldization does not always benefit all of the participants in the process or society in general and actually has several important costs or dangers associated with it. According to Ritzer, McDonaldized institutions inevitably produce irrationalities “that limit, eventually compromise, and perhaps even undermine their rationality.” They can be inefficient because of excess red tape and other problems. They can produce poor quality work and a decline in employee effort because of the emphasis on quantification (the substitution of quantity for quality and the resulting mediocrity of both the process and the product), the often mind-numbing routine, and the absence of meaningful employee job input. Bohm also states that “McDonaldized institutions can be unpredictable because employees, no matter how well trained and supervised, sometimes are confused, unsure about what they are supposed to do, inefficient, and apt to make mistakes.” Ritzer points out that McDonaldized institutions can also be dehumanising. Ritzer also remarked that Max Weber noted what he called the “iron cage” of rationality in which people get trapped in bureaucracies that deny them their basic humanity2 “as, for example, when crime victims are ignored or mistreated by criminal justice officials”.3

All the above observations about the negative costs of the “McDonaldization” of justice clearly apply to the International Criminal Court.

For all the hope invested in it by those who wished it to be a genuine court of last resort, the ICC the world sees before it is at best a mediocre institution and at worst irretrievably flawed. The court has been inefficient, dysfunctional, selective, unpredictable and racist and has made mistake after mistake. The comment above about criminal justice officials ignoring or mistreating victims is a particular case in point. The ICC promised to be victim-centred yet Human Rights Watch has publicly criticised the ICC’s ambivalence toward victim communities. In 2013 an Avocats Sans Frontieres [Lawyers Without Borders] report stated that the ICC victim registration was “problematic”. The American University’s War Crimes Research Office ICC project has been more candid, stating that “the victim application process is unsustainable” and that the victims are “frustrated”. All these are classic examples of the “McDonaldization” of justice.

The absence of employee job input has also seen the mass departure of good lawyers from the court, leaving lackluster time-servers.

Bohm notes that accepting McJustice is not only supporting the status quo with all of its irrationalities, it is also rejecting viable, especially systemic, alternatives. He concludes: “McJustice, like McDonaldization generally, is a political enterprise in which definitions of rationality and irrationality are contested”, every word of which applies equally to the International Criminal Court, which can all too clearly be seen as little more than a political enterprise directed and funded by the European Union with an exclusive focus on Africa and Africans.

Of one thing there is no doubt. Taking their behaviour and almost laughable ineptitude in office into account, within any “McDonaldization” analogy both of the Chief Prosecutors of the ICC, Ocampo and Bensouda, would easily qualify for the role of the clown, Ronald McDonald.

The International Criminal Court with all its fumbling and bumbling is after all the laughing stock of the judicial world.

Cited sources

1 George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of society, Thousand Pine Forge Press, Oaks, CA, 2004, p. 1. Ritzer points out that the theoretical basis for McDonaldization is Max Weber’s theory of rationality and bureaucracy.

2 Robert M. Bohm, “‘McJustice’: On the McDonaldization of Criminal Justice”, Justice Quarterly, Vol. 23, Issue 1, March 2006, pp. 127-146. Robert M. Bohm is a Professor of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies at the University of Central Florida. He is a past president and Fellow of ACJS as well as a recipient of its Founders Award. His research interests focus on criminal justice, criminological theory, and capital punishment. Bohm points out that the concept of McDonaldization has been used to depict developments in a variety of different social institutions, including religion, education, the media, medicine, and leisure and travel.

3 Ritzer, op. cit., p. 28.

Courtesy of Africa Research Centre



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