Jul 17, 2018: 20th anniversary of Rome Statute offers ICC a chance to promote its mission
NETHERLANDS - Commemorative events on the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court at The Hague, offers the struggling body an opportunity to boost its credibility and win more political support.
The world’s first permanent international judicial authority, it is the court of last resort for prosecution of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It came into force on Jul 1, 2002, after the required minimum of 60 countries ratified it, and it has struggled with credibility from its early days because several of the most powerful states refused to join. The United States, China, Israel, Russia and others refused to sign, failed to ratify the treaty, or initially signed but later unsigned it.
The court struggles against charges of bias. Though it has opened procedures to deal with crimes in other continents, it has only brought charges against Africans. The court’s pursuit of sitting African leaders, including Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, has hardened African Union opposition to the ICC.
In Nov 2017, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda formally requested authorization to investigate the United States military and CIA for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. There have also been attempts to level war crimes charges against Israel. Both pursuits will test whether the supposed impunity of non-signatory countries is rock-solid.
The reach of the ICC has also been limited to individuals without powerful friends. The New York Times notes that the court can indict sitting heads of state, as it did with al-Bashir, but it has no power to handcuff them and put them in the dock. Instead, the court relies on other heads of state and governments to act as its sheriffs around the world. In the years since the indictment, many of them have let the Sudanese flout the court’s arrest warrant. Bashir’s refusal to heed the warrants has come to symbolize a broader impunity shown toward the court.
Human Rights Watch urges countries to give the court more backing with its investigations, arrest warrants and witness protection programs. The organization also notes that private and public diplomacy “is necessary to protect the court’s independence and legitimacy from outside political pressure.”
As of 2017, 123 countries are States Parties to the Rome Statute – 34 from Africa, 19 from the Asia-Pacific region, 18 from Eastern Europe, 28 from Latin America and Caribbean states, and 25 from Western European and other States.