Yesterday in The Hague delegations from 121 countries concluded discussions at the tenth annual Assembly of State Parties to the International Criminal Court (ICC). At the Assembly, states reaffirmed their efforts to end impunity for international crimes and continue work to build an international order characterised by the rule of law.
The Court’s Statute reminds us that all peoples are united by common bonds, their cultures pieced together in a shared heritage, and that this delicate mosaic may be shattered at any time. It is this recognition of the fundamental value, but also the fragility, of humanity that underpins the ICC.
The perpetrators of the worst crimes imaginable – genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes – should not go unpunished. When the international community came together in 1998 to create the first permanent International Criminal Court, it was this belief that guided us and it continues to this day.
A decade after the ICC Statute’s entry into force is a fitting moment to reflect on the achievements of the ICC, and to reaffirm our strong and enduring support for its mission.
This year the United Kingdom has been proud to host and support a series of events across the world aimed at commemorating the 10th anniversary of the ICC.
One such event was a powerful speech by the UK Foreign Secretary delivered at The Hague in July that announced an additional donation of £500,000 to the ICC Trust Fund for Victims:
“Justice and international law are central to foreign policy. The rule of law is critical to the preservation of the rights of individuals and the protection of the interests of all states. We need to strengthen the international awareness and observance of laws and rules that are our best means of preventing (…) irreparable damage. We need to work to bridge the gap in thinking and policy between Western democracies and some of the emerging powers on the protection of human rights overseas…
Our challenge now – and it is immense – is to complete the work of the Tribunals, to strive to universalise the Rome Statute and increase the capacities of the International Criminal Court, and to make irreversible the progress that has been made in ending the culture of impunity for the worst crimes.”
During the course of the last ten years the Court has grown from a small office in The Hague in 2002, into the strong, vibrant institution that it is today. The ICC now employs over seven hundred staff including prosecutors, investigators, analysts, judges, legal officers and many others.
121 States are now parties to the Rome Statute covering over 2.3 billion people. There are 435 lawyers from 59 countries on the ICC list of counsel. Work is underway in investigations and preliminary examinations across the world, from Uganda to Afghanistan, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Colombia, and from Cote D’Ivoire to Libya.
Victims have participated in proceedings before the Court and the ICC Trust Fund for Victims is implementing 28 projects to assist victims in situation countries.
2012 has been a landmark year for the Court. In March Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga was convicted for the recruitment and use of child soldiers. He was found guilty of enlisting child soldiers on a mass scale leading to their dehumanisation and denial of the innocence their youth warranted. The Court has issued a ground breaking decision on reparations for victims of his crimes.
For the first time, the voices of child soldiers have been truly heard. The case demonstrates that those who commit the most serious of international crimes can and will be held to account. Many other cases are ongoing including Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Germain Katanga, Mathiew Ngudjolo Chui, Henry Kiprano Kosgey, Mohammed Hussein Ali and Laurent Gbagbo.
Despite these successes, misconceptions about the ICC persist.
The ICC is considered by some to be an ‘invasive’ form of justice, impinging on national sovereignty and undermining domestic judicial processes. However, the ICC is based on the principle of ‘complementarity’ ensuring that states retain the primacy to prosecute individuals. The ICC is designed to be complementary to these efforts only being invoked when the national authorities cannot or will not prosecute.
The ICC has been accused by some of focussing on one region only, Africa. This is unfair and inaccurate. The majority of African situations resulting in ICC action have been at the instigation of the national authorities, which have actively invited the ICC to support them.
The most recent example is that of Mali, where the national authorities along with ECOWAS supported Mali’s self-referral to the ICC.
The International Criminal Court is a young institution with a long road ahead. Britain will support the Court every step of the way, and we encourage others to join us. The ICC provides a voice for the victims of some of the world’s most appalling crimes. Together states can help ensure that this voice is heard and justice is secured.