Africa: International Criminal Justice Day - Making the Impossible Possible

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On July 17 the international community celebrates the Day of International Criminal Justice. The decision to dedicate this day to international criminal justice was to mark the adoption of the Rome Statute, by which the International Criminal Court (ICC) was founded, and to commemorate and celebrate the steps taken toward ending impunity.

Recently, a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the Rome Statute was held in The Hague, a city that hosts the ICC and one that is increasingly seen as the justice capital of the world. At the event, representatives of the diplomatic community and civil society were joined by H.E. Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“Things always seem impossible until you do them,” said Ms Pillay, quoting Nelson Mandela. “Making the impossible possible is what international criminal justice is about,” she added, pointing to many challenges that may seem impossible to resolve today. Having served as a judge and president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and as one of the first judges of the International Criminal Court, the High Commissioner certainly has many insights of the difficulties that the international criminal justice system faces.

Indeed, today, as many states are celebrating the achievements of international criminal justice, the Court finds itself dealing with the fact that one State Party to the Rome Statute has recently hosted a high-level visitor against whom the Court has issued two arrest warrants. Mindful of the fact that the Court has no independent enforcement measures, States Parties have repeatedly expressed concerns regarding the negative consequences that failure to comply with decisions of the Court has on the Court's ability to carry out its mandate. Acting collectively as an Assembly, the 122 States Parties have consistently voiced strong commitment to cooperate with the Court and recognized their responsibilities and obligations from arresting individuals to ensuring the protection of witnesses. Acting individually or regionally though, States sometimes find it politically challenging or outright impossible to cooperate and have even collectively undertaken not to comply with the Court.

However, as challenging or impossible as it may seem, the world is expecting international criminal jurisdictions, including the ICC, to focus on the leaders or architects responsible for international crimes, even if these people occupy a high office. “The trials of these leaders, watched by the world, can serve as an important deterrent to future abuses of power, in all countries. Furthermore, the trials of the leaders responsible for heinous crimes that have affected very large numbers of victims also enable more victims to benefit from justice and redress,” stated Ms Pillay in her address in The Hague.

Today, celebrating the Day of International Criminal Justice, is a perfect occasion to not only commemorate the strides that have been made toward ending impunity but to also demonstrate a continued commitment to ensuring accountability for crimes that threaten the peace, security, and well-being of the world. In reaffirming their support to the international justice system, States Parties need to continue day-to-day cooperation with the Court to ensure its success in delivering justice.

I join the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in her hope that over time we will see a systematic criminalization of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide across the globe and join her in her call on all States to ratify the Rome Statute and adopt implementing legislation.

Ambassador Tiina Intelmann is the President of the Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court. She can be followed on Twitter @Tintelmann

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