On 17 July, the United Nations Diplomatic Conference in Rome decided to establish a permanent International Criminal Court, with power to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern. Those crimes are genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as the crime of aggression, once an acceptable definition for the Court's jurisdiction over it is adopted. As it concluded five weeks of deliberations, the Conference adopted by a vote of 120 to 7, with 21 abstentions, the Statute for the Court (for details on the draft, see UN Chronicle, No. 2, 1998, pp. 51-52). The non-recorded vote was requested by the United States. In addressing the ceremony, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that it was "indeed a historic moment". Two millenniums ago, one of Rome's most famous sons, Marcus Tullius Cicero, had declared that "in the midst farms, law stands mute", but now there was "real hope that that blear statement will be less true in the future than it has been in the past", he stressed.
While the idea of an International criminal court was, in general, accepted by almost all delegations, debates showed that their positions and approaches differed widely. The non-inclusion of nuclear weapons in the list of serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international conflict was deplored by many. However, the Statute was seen by all as a good instrument for later perfection and, for that reason, national positions had been put aside in the spirit of flexibility and compromise. In the following pages, eminent persons associated with the Court's creation respond to the UN Chronicle's invitation for their perspectives. And here are some of the points made during the debate in Rome:
Afghanistan: If such a Court had existed 20 years ago, Afghanistan would not have been victim of so many aggressions.
Austria (on behalf of the European Union): A considerable number of thorny and extremely sensitive issues had been resolved - issues linked with the exercise of national criminal jurisdiction, with matters of national security and sovereignty.
Bangladesh: Regretted that the Conference had not been able to deal with the issue of weapons of mass destruction.
Benin: Was concerned about the role given to the Security Council under the Statute. Was it fair that it could block investigations of the Court? Nuclear weapons should have been formally banned by their inclusion in war crimes provisions.
Brazil: Was concerned that the Court might not be consistent with its national law which prohibits life imprisonment.
China: Granting the Prosecutor the right to initiate prosecutions placed State sovereignty on the subjective decisions of an individual.
Cuba: Regretted that destructive weapons of mass destruction had not been included in the Statute.
Egypt: Hoped for a definition of aggression that should conform to that of the General Assembly. …