The International Criminal Court

  • Date / 13 August 2004

[img]https://humanists.international/uploads/icclogo.gif[/img]The International Criminal Court, once considered a Utopian dream, is now in operation. On 11 March, the latest briefing on the topic ‘The International Criminal Court: What’s Next’ informed an audience of NGO representatives that a chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, has been appointed, and the court is already actively pursuing cases. The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has described this as a “giant step in the march towards universal human rights and the rule of law”.

Given the complexity and challenge of the task, the time period for its inauguration has turned out to be far shorter than expected. This is largely due to dedicated work by NGOs, including the International Coalition for the Criminal Court (ICC). Thanks to the work of Martha Gallahue of the AEU’s National Service Conference, the AEU is a member of the Coalition (www.iccnow.org).

The Court’s function is strictly limited to jurisdiction of the most atrocious crimes, defined as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. It functions for countries which have ratified the court, already over 92, and still seeking to expand. Although ratification in Asia has been limited, Japan and China have been giving signs of encouragement. The world needs this ratification from large countries such as Mexico, Russia and the United States, which have still not ratified. The US is seeking bilateral agreements with countries which have ratified not to bring American nationals to trial. There are rigorous safeguards against frivolous proposals which are politically motivated. The US opposes the Court and is trying to undermine it (see the above website for more information).

The idea of an International Criminal Court is not new. There were several failed attempts in the early 20th century, and the most successful precedent was the Nuremberg trials held after World War II. Currently, there are Security Council-approved ad hoc courts providing a legal response to the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda – crimes that would have been prevented by effective cooperation of the western powers through the Security Council in the first place.

The existence of a standing court frees the court from the accusation that it is the revenge of the victorious. It shifts the focus from retributive justice to restorative justice, where the victim is acknowledged and perpetrators held accountable. It is the beginning of an attack on impunity, preventing rulers who have committed atrocious crimes from taking refuge in host countries after expulsion from their own.

The establishment of this court represents recognition by world opinion that there is a universal moral standard. Its existence does not lessen the importance of prevention. Humanitarian intervention when crimes are being committed is still a subject of much debate. Will the existence of this court lessen the chances for the occurrence of horrific crimes? That remains to be seen. But the realization of this court is part of a continuing trend towards a change in world consciousness. Vision and persistence – in the cause of humanity!

[i]Sylvain and Phyllis Ehrenfeld[/i]

Further information on human rights and the ICC can be found on the Human Rights Watch website [url=http://www.hrw.org]www.hrw.org[/url]). Sylvain and Phyllis Ehrenfeld are IHEU Representatives to the UN and the AEU’s National Service Conference.

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