Globalizing Justice: NGOs and the Need for an International Criminal Court

By Pace, William R. | Harvard International Review, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Globalizing Justice: NGOs and the Need for an International Criminal Court


Pace, William R., Harvard International Review


WILLIAM R. PACE is Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy and is the Convenor of the NGO Coalition for an International Criminal Court.

Behind the daily headlines of world crises and UN failures, negotiations are underway to strengthen the rule of justice and law in the maintenance of international peace and security. For the past three years, a partnership of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments, and international organizations have been leading a quiet but determined effort to create a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC).

If this progressive partnership succeeds in ratifying an ICC, the new world court will be the last major international organization established during a century described by historians as the most war-ridden and bloody in history.

Proposals for an international criminal tribunal to prosecute those individuals accused of the most heinous crimes in international law have surfaced several times during the past century. Shortly after World War II and the Nuremberg Tribunals, there were high hopes for creating an ICC. But even the horrors of the Holocaust and subsequent calls of "never again" were soon forgotten amidst the new nationalist hysteria of a four-decade Cold War.

Ironically, at the end of the Cold War the European victors of World War II were mere shadows of their former selves, the "losers" were back as great powers, and the world had experienced the most radical four decades in history of decolonization, development of nation-states, and growth in self-government. Despite democratization within states, progress toward international democracy and supranational law had remained, except in Western Europe, essentially stagnant.

Recent Developments

After decades of delay, the United Nations is nearing the conclusion of a treaty negotiation to establish a permanent ICC. Legal experts from around the world are scheduled to convene in Rome in 1998 to finalize the statute for the Court. The framework for an ICC as now proposed was formally introduced to the General Assembly by Trinidad and Tobago in 1989, but the idea gained impetus only following the creation of Ad Hoc Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

The proposed new world court, in cooperation with national legal systems, is designed to deter and, if necessary, to bring to justice future Hitlers, Idi Amins, and Pol Pots and those who aid them. Although some have suggested that the Court's domain be expanded to include crimes of aggression, most governments support limiting its jurisdiction to crimes against the international community defined in treaties such as the 1907 Hague, 1948 Genocide, and 1949 Geneva Conventions: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The new court will function as an arbiter of individual responsibility; the existing "World Court," the International Court of Justice, will continue in its mandate to resolve disputes between nations.

The negotiations have progressed surprisingly rapidly since the International Law Commission (ILC) reported its draft Statute to the UN General Assembly's Sixth (Legal) Committee in the Fall of 1994. The UN Preparatory Committee on the Establishment of an ICC has met for six weeks of negotiation during each of the last three years, discussing such issues as the definition of crimes within the Court's jurisdiction, the relationship of national courts to the ICC, the complaint mechanism of the Court, organization and funding, and the role of the UN Security Council. Though the ILC Draft Statute remains the basis of the negotiations, the current consolidated texts represent a much more detailed, radically amended composite proposal.

Civil Society and the ICC

The composite text includes options which, if adopted, would provide for an independent, just, and effective ICC. But without sustained support from experts and organizations representing broad sectors of international civil society during this next fateful year, the window of opportunity could once again close. …

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Globalizing Justice: NGOs and the Need for an International Criminal Court
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