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Top ICC officials hopeful tribunal will help prevent repeat of history's atrocities

Top ICC officials hopeful tribunal will help prevent repeat of history's atrocities

Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein
Top officials from the International Criminal Court (ICC) expressed the hope today that the horrors humanity had suffered during the past century would serve as a lesson, and that the existence of a permanent war crimes tribunal would help to prevent those atrocities from being repeated in the future.

The President of the Assembly of States Parties governing the ICC, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan, told reporters at United Nations Headquarters in New York that as the newly-established Court becomes operational, those who author the most savage of crimes, regardless of professional rank or political position, "will, with the passage of time, find no friend in impunity."

Mr. Zeid Al-Hussein was joined at the press briefing by the Court's first-ever President, Judge Philippe Kirsch of Canada, and its newly elected Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo of Argentina. The Assembly of States Parties have gathered in New York for the second part of their resumed organizational session, which is scheduled to run through tomorrow.

The ICC, inaugurated in The Hague on 11 March, will have jurisdiction over the most serious breaches of international law - trying individuals rather than states, and holding them accountable for war crimes, including, genocide, mass murder, enslavement, rape, torture, and, once defined, the crime of aggression.

Mr. Zeid Al-Hussein stressed that as the primary actors, the national courts will - and indeed must - take up their duties to prosecute those individuals culpable of having committed the worst atrocities. "But the International Criminal Court will station itself in the background, acting as the world's permanent conscience, taking up its responsibilities only when national jurisdictions are unwilling or genuinely unable to do so," he said.

Mr. Moreno Ocampo, elected yesterday by the States parties, stressed that the Court will work with national governments to investigate and punish atrocities that could not be confined by national borders. "The ICC was not meant to replace States' responsibilities," he said, adding that the principle of "complementarity" established by the Rome Statute - the treaty that established the Court - compelled the Prosecutor's Office to collaborate with national jurisdictions in order to help improve their efficiency.

However, there would be cases in which States would not be able to, or not want to, fulfil their mission, he said, and in those cases, "the ICC must fill the gap." The Prosecutor would be in charge of triggering the international jurisdiction. His first act as Prosecutor would be to assemble a "dream team" for his Office, based on geographical, gender and cultural representation.

Aware of concerns regarding his powers to launch an investigation on his own initiative, Mr. Moreno Ocampo stressed that there was a system of checks and balances to prevent abuse of power. The Assembly of States Parties would control the Prosecutor's behaviour, the pre-trial chamber would control the cases. The judges had been selected among the best candidates from 43 countries. "The world can trust them," he said.

Judge Kirsch said the Presidency had been working on administrative issues and judges had started to address, among other things, issues of defence, witnesses and victims, ethics, pre-trial rules and appeals. He was confident that by the time cases were presented, the Court would be ready to function and meet the expectations of the international community, he said.

Responding to questions, Judge Kirsch said one of the four crimes listed in the Statute was genocide and that crime was based on the Convention against Genocide. The ICC was a completely new institution which had jurisdiction over crimes committed after entry into force of the Rome Statute, which took place on 1 July 2002. It therefore would not supersede the ad-hoc Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Asked how the Court would deal with complaints about crimes in Iraq committed by those from the United States, Mr. Moreno Ocampo said the Court would handle only cases from countries that were States Parties, and Iraq and the United States were not. However, the national systems could address those cases. The Court was global, with 89 States Parties, but was not yet universal.