In what was widely hailed as an historic event, the 60th ratification of the Rome Statute was deposited with the United Nations today, paving the way for the creation of the world's first permanent war crimes court later this year.
During a solemn ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York, instruments of ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) were formally lodged by representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Republic of the Congo, Ireland, Jordan, Mongolia, Niger, Romania and Slovakia. The UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Hans Corell, accepted them on behalf of Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The 10 instruments simultaneously deposited this morning bring the number of ratifications to 66, or six past the total required for the entry into force of the landmark treaty that had been adopted in Rome in July 1998. The Rome Statute will now enter into force on 1 July. The first conference of the States Parties will be held in September and the Court itself, to be based in The Hague, Netherlands, is expected to be established in 2003.
The treaty event this morning was witnessed by a group of ambassadors and delegates to the ICC preparatory session currently under way at UN Headquarters, as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations and the media.
"A page in the history of humankind is being turned," Mr. Corell said at the end of the ceremony. "May all this serve our society well in the years to come."
Joining Mr. Corell at a press conference later in the day, Ambassador Philippe Kirsch of Canada, Chairman of the Preparatory Commission for the ICC, stressed that the Statute's entry into force came a lot sooner than anyone had expected following the 1998 United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court in Rome, which had negotiated the text of the treaty.
That fact showed a real determination on the part of the international community "to finally put an end to this culture of impunity, and replace it with a culture of accountability for those crimes that are described in the statute - genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and eventually, also aggression," he said.
Another reason for the quick number of ratifications was that the Statute was much better understood than it had been some years ago, Ambassador Kirsch added, noting that it was a legal instrument “designed to ensure the punishment of very serious crimes and to deter the future commission of those crimes.”
The Statute was full of legal safeguards to ensure due process, including the principle of "complementarity," which meant that the Court would only step in if a national system were unable or unwilling to do so. "The primary responsibility for the punishment of crimes is with States and not with the international community," he stressed.
The Court will consist of 18 international judges elected for a nine-year term, and a team of prosecutors and investigators. It will not be part of the United Nations; instead it will be accountable to the countries that ratify the Statute, which have agreed to prosecute individuals accused of such crimes under their own laws, or to surrender them to the Court for trial.