A mini-opera for the International Criminal Court

A kilogram of Feathers from male on Vimeo.


Malena Arcucci and Joseph Pleass 

The events that make up a court case are only understood backwards. Balance, is also only understood backwards, it is an act that can only be performed once imbalance has taken place; it is reactionary. If I am falling to the left, then it is only then that I must lean to the right. Once the events of a court case are understood, a verdict is reached that in some way sets out to rebalance events. “An eye for an eye”, or the law of retaliation, is the principle that a person who has injured another person is to be penalised to a similar degree.


The belief that a certain degree of propriety must be maintained, even in the most extreme and violent armed conflicts, has been present since ancient greek times. But the prosecution of war crimes has been historically restricted to the defeated, or to isolated cases of rogue soldiers in the victor’s army. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that concepts and written regulations for the international prosecution for humanitarian abuses slowly began to emerge. The Geneva Convention, the Tokyo and Nuremberg trials, and later the ad hoc Tribunals, aided national justice systems who had often proven themselves to be incapable of acting balanced and impartially in cases where those responsible for the crimes were still in power.


On the 17th of July 1998, the Rome Statute entered into force giving the International Criminal Court jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Rome Statute is a multilateral treaty which serves as the ICC’s foundational and governing document. States which become party to the Rome Statute, for example by ratifying it, become member states of the ICC. Currently, there are 123 states which are party to the Rome Statute and therefore members of the ICC.


Whilst it is the ICC’s desire to have a global ‘more just world, this idea of cooperation, universal values of justice and balance are regularly thrown into disarray by mayor global powers who either, refuse to be a part of the ICC, leave the ICC, or refuse to cooperate with the ICC. This leaves the institution in a traumatic state where it’s establishment as an international organization, and its inadequacy, are directly tied to the politics that serve (in some form) as the catalyst for the exact events they are prosecuting– that being the refusal to acknowledge a shared global value of justice and ethics. The ICC have no power to force or convince anyone to join them, yet they exist to operate within the community that will not join them– leaving them as powerless observers of their own impotence. This is the trauma at the core of the opera, and balance is the signifier.



This opera examines the trauma present in the International Criminal Court and reveals the tragedy inherent in its existence as a global institution. This is enacted through a chronological dissection of the ICC, from it’s conception through the signing of the Rome Statute to it’s ongoing critique from the international community. To release the ICC from it’s Sisyphean fatigue, we provide a second act that aims to resolve the paradox that is: the global community both needing to be ethical and cooperative, to allow the ICC to prosecute their own unethical international crimes. In the opera, this loop is broken by the ICC employing a world police force that enforces global jurisdiction, which comes at the cost of behaving unethically and immorally themselves— in turn committing crimes against humanity.


We’re using balance to speak about ideas of justice. Balance is an attempt to reverse the actions of an event to maintain stasis. Human ideas of balance tend to go against entropy, and require effort to maintain. The judiciary system acts as a symbolic attempt to retain balance and order. Whilst the ICC can not go back in time and prevent, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression it, instead, acts to understand these events and define a narrative of absolute truth regarding them; once these events are understood, an act of punishment is delivered, restoring a balance to the universal values of justice.


Through each element of the production balance is used to emphasise the attempts from the ICC to fulfil its role as a global institution, and the imbalance inherent in the global communities response to it. This act of balance and imbalance is played out within the productions; music, libretto, set and performance.





160 countries and 200 NGOs gathered in July of 1998 with one goal in mind: establishing the International Criminal Court organization (ICC) whose primary mission is to end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes humanity has ever faced.

The young and eager protagonist guides international leaders through the signing of the Rome Statute, a treaty that will give them global jurisdiction to prosecute and convict war criminals.

It all seems perfect as celebrations take place and the agreement is received with international waves of excitement and hope. The future looks bright for once.

Years go by, and initial wave of excitement and hope is followed by a sense of defeat when it becomes clear that the major triumphs of the court have been almost exclusively on paper. The Leader of the Nation States turns against the International Criminal Court and withdraws it’s signature from the agreement. Driven by their own interests and by a deep fear of the power invested in the hands of this institution, they continuously block and disavow his efforts to find global justice.

In a desperate bid to ask for cooperation, the protagonist approaches the Leader of the Nation States  asking for support in the prosecution of a major war criminal. The future of the ICC hinges on the outcome of this exchange.



The war criminal walks free, leaving the ICC to deal alone with global backlash for its lack of efficiency. The protagonist refuses to accept defeat and calls his closest advisors for a summit in The Hague, were he expects the terms of the Rome Statute to be reassessed to ensure the ICC’s jurisdiction over non-member countries. What he does not know is that the people he trusted the most have met with the Leader of the Nation States to arrange a parallel deal: the dissolution of the ICC and the establishment of a new court led by army leaders and former presidents.

Deprived from his funding and feeling distrustful towards everyone around him, the protagonist flies to Africa to arrange the creation of the ICC Armed Forces. A group of former police and soldiers who are tasked with taking over the government in every country that was under investigation by the ICC.

War rapidly spread across the world and the former ICC is at the centre of the conflict. The protagonist is blinded by betrayal and gets caught up in one of the bloodiest arms conflicts the world has ever since. Nonetheless, his positive and hopeful nature impedes him from making smart strategic decisions.

The ICC loses the war and the protagonist is imprisoned by the Nation States. The ICC is the only institution with the knowledge to prosecute such a complicated conflict. A new Ad Hoc tribunal is created and new bases for the prosecution of war crimes are instated.