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Countries must not waiver in pursuit of justice, says head of International Criminal Court

Headquarters of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Vincent van Zeijst
Headquarters of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Countries must not waiver in pursuit of justice, says head of International Criminal Court

Marking International Criminal Justice Day, the head of the world’s first permanent court set up to try war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide today stressed the need to ensure that the countries do no waiver in the pursuit of justice.

“While we have come a long way, we cannot afford complacency,” said Judge Sang-Hyun Song of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

International Criminal Justice Day is dedicated to celebrating the development and achievements of international criminal justice institutions. It is observed on 17 July, the date on which the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC, was adopted in 1998.

Judge Song recalled in his statement to mark the Day that the international community, gathered in Rome, had agreed on the creation of a permanent international court with a mandate to punish the perpetrators of the most inhumane crimes imaginable and to provide reparations to the victims of such acts.

“By adopting the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the world embarked upon an audacious plan to create a global justice system based on international cooperation aimed at holding accountable those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“Many said that this was an impossible task, that the adversity could not be overcome. But the global justice project proved strong,” he stated, noting that the ICC today is “a vibrant, independent international organization” with 122 member States – and many more have expressed their intention to join.

With eight ongoing investigations, eight preliminary examinations, and the issuance of 23 arrest warrants and nine summonses to appear, the ICC is undertaking more investigations and conducting more proceedings involving more suspects than ever before, he added.

In addition, more than 12,000 applications for participation in proceedings as a victim and more than 9,000 applications for reparations were received. More than 5,000 victims are participating in ICC proceedings, giving them a voice in the courtroom. The Trust Fund for Victims is providing support to an estimated 80,000 victims of crimes under the ICC’s jurisdiction.

“The story of the International Criminal Court gives us hope; it is proof that audacious goals can be achieved,” said Judge Song.

At the same time, he noted that the ICC faces threats today as real as ever before. “There are those who seek to undermine the international justice movement, who politicise its action, who question its value, and who purport to speak for the victims it serves. There are those who refuse to cooperate, leaving more than ten ICC suspects still at large,” he stated.

“That is why on this day – 17 July – it is worth pausing to gather our resolve and to affirm why we must not waiver in pursuit of justice.”

He noted that international criminal justice is not owned by any one culture, nor driven by any one people. “It is an ideal which is intensely human; it is why the International Criminal Court has been embraced across all the world’s continents.

“We have travelled a long way down the path of accountability, but it is a journey which will never be complete. We see obstacles on our way, but know they will be overcome. We have always moved forward, and we take no backward steps, because our eyes are fixed on the cause, because we travel this path together, and because we do so with conviction. I am honoured to have your company on the road.”

Located in The Hague, in the Netherlands, the ICC tries persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern – namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – if national authorities with jurisdiction are unwilling or unable to do so genuinely.

The eight situations currently under investigation by the ICC are the Central African Republic (CAR), the Darfur region of Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Libya, Mali, northern Uganda, and Côte d'Ivoire.