International Court More Than a Symbol

Article excerpt

Fifteen years ago this week, the International Criminal Court came into being, ushering in a new era in the fight for global criminal justice by creating the first permanent international forum with the mandate to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of mass atrocities.

That day is marked every July 17 as International Justice Day. No longer could powerful people claim impunity for committing crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and crimes of aggression.

I remember, as foreign minister at the time, being in the large hall in Rome on July 17, 1998, when the final vote was announced on passage of the statute creating the court, generating a sense of exultation from the delegates when it was clear there would be an overwhelming majority (120 countries for, seven against, 21 abstaining) for the creation of this brand-new international body defending the emerging human-rights standard of protecting individuals against the violence which had scarred the decade in places like Rwanda and Srebrenica.

It is habit with anniversaries to reflect. How have these high hopes for the court been met? First, a disclaimer: Fifteen years is not a long time to make a judgment, considering the initial period was heavily involved in just putting in place the infrastructure, logistics and procedures of a new global institution.

But even with that caveat, the ICC has gone through an activist period of investigations under its first prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, and its first president and judge, Philippe Kirsch of Canada.

It is now entering a new period of reorganizing and consolidation under its new prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, and president Sang-Hyun Song. The work that has begun builds upon the successful indictment of Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and the conviction of Charles Taylor of Liberia. There was the daring indictment of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir in 2009 for his alleged crimes in the killing of innocent people in South Sudan and Darfur.

Many lesser cases are on the docket, including some 30 indictments, and there is no doubt the court has become an important player in the ongoing, increasingly difficult task of institutionalizing a human-rights-based approach to global governance, but also to the defeat of impunity by state actors who have historically found themselves above the law. …