On the eve of convening the first review conference of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on all nations to adhere to the tribunal that seeks to try perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity worldwide.
“If the ICC is to have the reach it should possess, if it is to become an effective deterrent as well as an avenue of justice, it must have universal support,” he said in an opinion column published in the Indian newspaper, The Hindu. “As Secretary-General, I call on all nations to join. Those that already have done so must cooperate fully with the court. That includes backing it publicly, as well as faithfully executing its orders.”
So far 111 countries have become parties to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, while 37 others have signed but not yet ratified it. But some of the world's largest and most powerful countries, including China, India, Russia and the United States, have not joined. Mr. Ban will preside at the opening of the review conference in Kampala, Uganda, on Monday.
“This is a fundamental break with history. The old era of impunity is over,” he wrote, noting how a new “age of accountability” that began with the special courts on war crimes and genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia was slowly coming into being, with the ICC as the keystone of a growing system of global justice that includes international tribunals, mixed international-national courts and domestic prosecutions.
So far, the ICC has opened five investigations. Two trials are under way; a third is scheduled to begin in July and four detainees are in custody. “Those who thought the court would be little more than a ‘paper tiger’ have been proved wrong, Mr. Ban said. “To the contrary, the ICC casts an increasingly long shadow. Those who would commit crimes against humanity have clearly come to fear it.”
He noted that suspects in three of the court’s five proceedings remain free, living in impunity. Earlier this week, the ICC referred to the Security Council Sudan’s failure to cooperate in arresting a former minister and a pro-Government militia chief.
Three years ago, the ICC’s pre-trial chamber issued arrest warrants for former Minister of State for the Interior Ahmad Harun and alleged Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb for the alleged murder of civilians, rape and outrages upon the personal dignity of women and girls, persecution, forcible transfers, imprisonment or severe deprivation of liberty, and attacks intentionally directed against civilians – all in connection with the fighting in Sudan’s Darfur region.
A third arrest warrant was issued in March last year for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“Not only the ICC, but the whole of the international justice system suffers from such disregard, while those who would abuse human rights are emboldened,” Mr. Ban wrote, adding that perhaps the most contentious debate at the review forum will focus on the balance between peace and justice in relation to amnesty for abuses, which he forcefully rejected.
“Frankly, I see no choice between them,” he said. “In today’s conflicts, civilians are too often the chief victims. Women, children and the elderly are at the mercy of armies or militias who rape, maim, kill and devastate towns, villages, crops, cattle and water sources – all as a strategy of war. The more shocking the crime, the more effective it is as a weapon.
“Any victim would understandably yearn to stop such horrors, even at the cost of granting immunity to those who have wronged them. But this is a truce at gunpoint, without dignity, justice or hope for a better future. The time has passed when we might talk of peace versus justice. There cannot be one without the other. Our challenge is to pursue them both, hand in hand. In this, the International Criminal Court is key.”