First session of Assembly of States Parties to International Criminal Court concludes work.
International Criminal Court
Assembly of States Parties
5th Meeting (AM)
Court Must Serve as 'A Bastion Against Tyranny and Lawlessness', Says Secretary-General.
The International Criminal Court was not and must never become an organ for political witch hunting, the Secretary-General told the gathering of States Parties to the treaty creating the Court as it closed its session this morning. Rather, the Court must serve as a bastion against tyranny and lawlessness and as a building block in the global architecture of collective security, he said.
The Secretary-General, as did many other speakers in the meeting, pointed to the crucial connection between the Court's first bench of judges and first Prosecutor, and the Court's credibility. The judges, Prosecutor and other high officials must meet the highest standards of legal rigour, human sensitivity and professional probity, he said. States must take special care to nominate and elect individuals who had a wealth of experience and the qualities and qualifications needed to dispense international justice fairly and with wisdom. Above all, he said, the Court's independence, impartiality and integrity must be preserved.
The representative of Liechtenstein said there was still a surprising amount of misunderstanding and false information surrounding the Court. Given the repeated allegation that the Statute allowed for --- or at least did not prevent ---frivolous and politically motivated prosecutions, the work of the first Prosecutor would receive enormous attention and the Assembly therefore needed to appoint an individual of the highest calibre.
The nomination period for candidates for the Court's 18 judges officially opened yesterday, 9 September, and will close on 30 November. Judges will be elected in the Assembly's February 2003 meeting.
The Secretary-General began his address by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., saying: "We shall have to repent in this generation, not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people, but for the appalling silence of the good people." In adopting the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, he said, good people spoke up on behalf of the innocent victims of horrendous crimes and in the name of international law. Millions of people were still subject to brutality of the worst sort and were denied freedoms that others took for granted. The Assembly had gathered to give the Court the operational tools with which to do its part to improve that sad state of affairs, he said.
During its meeting, which took place from 3 to 10 September, the Assembly elected Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein (Jordan) as President. In his closing statement, he thanked the Secretary-General for being an unwavering advocate of the Court, and said he and the Secretariat continued to play a pivotal role in making the Court a reality.
Earlier in the session, the Assembly formally adopted the legal agreements that were prepared by the Preparatory Commission to allow the Court to function, including a budget for the first year of the Court. It also approved a nomination procedure for the election of judges that the Assembly believed would ensure a fair and transparent process.
Ministers from the following countries spoke in the general debate this morning: Sierra Leone, France, Sweden and Switzerland. Also addressing the Assembly were the representatives of Ecuador, New Zealand, Senegal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Liechtenstein, Costa Rica, Spain, Finland and Cambodia.
A signing ceremony for the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the Court followed the closing of the meeting.
The Assembly is scheduled to meet next in a resumed session in New York from 3 to 7 February.
Assembly of States Parties Work Programme
The Assembly met this morning, in its closing session, to continue its general debate and to hear an address from the Secretary-General.
Luis Gallegos Chiriboga (Ecuador) said it was an honour for his country to be participating in the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), an innovative institution that would enrich the international system of justice. The Court would complement national legal systems with the goal of making justice and law prevail. If States respected their obligations to try those accused of the most serious crimes against humanity, there would be no need for the ICC to become involved. The Court would serve as a deterrent for criminals because they would know they would be held accountable for their actions.
It was essential to respect both the letter and the spirit of the Rome Statute. He expressed the hope that the international community would continue to support that commitment, and that no counter-initiative would lead to the questioning of such an august body as the ICC. The Statute contained sufficient guarantees that the Court would operate independently and impartially. The nominating procedure just adopted by the Assembly was a further step towards assuring the effectiveness and credibility of the Court.
Don Mackay (New Zealand) said it was time to look back and take pride in the achievements of the last few years, including the drama, tension and elation in Rome and the solid work of the Preparatory Commission. To have come so far was the result of work by many different people in many different States. He acknowledged the commitment of civil society to the ideals of the Court.
It was also time to look forward, he continued. Many challenges awaited the Court. A challenge in the short term would be the election of the judges and the Prosecutor. It was essential for the future credibility of the Court that those elected were of the highest caliber. The members of the Court must not only be exceedingly well qualified but must also be representative. It was, after all, an international court, and as such must reflect its range of States Parties and their legal systems. He hoped that the Court would be representative in terms of gender in a way not seen before in international institutions.
In memory of the millions who had died in conflicts in recent decades, all must work to ensure that the ICC was given the opportunity to prove itself, he said. He was confident that the Court would prove worthy of its trust, and that those who had misgivings about the Court would eventually agree that their fears had been unfounded. A future without a truly effective system for international justice did have to be feared. A permanent Court would be an important new tool of international justice. Its existence would help deter crimes in a way that ad hoc tribunals did not. The pace of ratifications reflected the changing international climate. For the Court to be truly effective it needed to have the widest geographical reach.
Papa Louis Fall (Senegal) said it had been a long road. The necessity of creating such a Court with power to try people accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, had made even more obvious by the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of atrocities and by the inertia of national jurisdictions. It was an arduous task. The international community was diverse in terms of its concepts of human rights. The road must be broadened to ensure that more nations would espouse the same virtues of peace, liberty and justice. To ensure sincere and positive cooperation without obstacles, all countries must rally around one quest.
Senegal had long upheld the idea of the Court, he said. The positive results achieved by the Assembly were proof that determination could overcome the greatest obstacles. All States Parties must be united in paying tribute to the important work of the Preparatory Commission. He hoped the work would be continued with the belief in a better world. He also hoped that the Assembly would be able to select the most capable men and women to continue the work of the Court. The last step was to ensure that the Court's credibility would be guaranteed. He had every reason to have hope.
Mirza Kusljugic' (Bosnia and Herzegovina) said the fact that it took a mere four years for the Rome Statute to enter into force was proof of the commitment of the international community to end impunity for the most serious crimes against humanity. His country, more than others, had stressed the importance of the Court. He recalled that the first international criminal tribunal had been established to try crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina had suffered and witnessed horrific crimes.
Driven by that experience, his country had made a special commitment to the creation of the Court, he said. A permanent international criminal court would have the ability to take action quickly and thereby help to limit the nature and duration of the violence being perpetrated. Praising the quality of the numerous instruments prepared and adopted by the Assembly, he said he trusted that the ICC would fulfil the hope of his people by becoming an impartial, efficient and powerful tool on behalf of international justice.
Srgjan Kerim (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) said the first session of the Assembly of States Parties represented another landmark in the historic campaign for a new system of international criminal justice, in which the United Nations had played a leading role. Macedonia, a long-standing supporter of the Court, welcomed the significant success achieved so far. The work of the Preparatory Commission had been a great triumph. He congratulated Tanzania and Colombia, which had become the latest States to ratify the Statute in the last month. In addition to the preparatory process, significant work had also been carried out by the Advance Team in The Hague. He emphasized his gratitude for the Netherland's support for the Court, and thanked non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society for their contribution.
It was of utmost importance that newly emerging democracies established the rule of law as a key component of their democratic systems, he said. Young democracies should refrain from entering into arrangements based upon cases that set precedents. Numerous delegates in the debate had pleaded that the Court should become truly universal. He could not agree more. Such precedents must not prevail, neither on a bilateral nor on the international level. Concerns regarding the possibility of politically motivated prosecutions could be addressed in ways that did not compromise the Court or international law. The Security Council must not be placed in the untenable position of risking a return to impunity for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
By affirming its determination to establish a just, legal order for present and future generations, the Assembly was marking a triumph for the rule of law, he said. The ICC represented one of the great manifestations of the globalization of democracy, justice and the rule of law in international affairs. The preventive role of the ICC would discourage future perpetrators of such crimes and thus contribute towards the maintenance of international peace and security.
Christian Wenaweser (Liechtenstein) said that while everybody agreed that the perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes must be held accountable and brought to justice, there were still some who did not subscribe to the vision of a Court in accordance with the provisions of the Rome Statute. The Statute was the result of an unprecedented common effort, and yet its integrity had been challenged time and time again since its adoption four years ago. "Standing up for the integrity of the Statute must go hand in hand with continuing our efforts to achieve universality of the Court," he said.
He expressed confidence that the Court would demonstrate its effectiveness and illustrate that it did indeed fill a loophole in ending the prevailing culture of impunity. It was of the highest importance that outstanding individuals of impeccable qualifications were elected to the first bench of judges and to the office of Prosecutor. An international court without representation of all regions would be a misnomer, and the presence of qualified women was indispensable for its credibility.
Although much had been published about the Court, there was still a surprising amount of misunderstanding and false information surrounding it, he said. Given the repeated allegation that the Statute allowed for or at least did not prevent frivolous and politically motivated prosecutions, the work of the first Prosecutor would receive enormous attention and the Assembly therefore needed to appoint an individual of high standing to that important post.
Bruno Stagno (Costa Rica), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, welcomed the creation of the Court as an effective, independent and impartial judicial forum. He repeated the Rio Group's appeal to all States that had not yet ratified the treaty to do so as soon as possible. The ICC enriched the legal structure of the international community, serving as a formidable tool in combating impunity and as a powerful deterrent against the commission of future atrocious crimes. The Statute assured that the Court would be an effect mechanism based on the principle of complementarity.
He appealed to all States to respect the spirit and letter of the Rome Statute and to guarantee its effectiveness and legitimacy. He welcomed the adoption by consensus of the procedure for the nomination of judges, saying it would contribute to the Court's credibility by ensuring a composition of the most qualified judges from all regions of the world and from both genders.
Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo (Spain) said the adoption of the Statute was the result of arduous work. The creation of the ICC constituted a landmark in the history of humanity. It was of universal design, with the purpose of putting an end to impunity. The birth of the Court on 1 July was the realization of a long-standing aspiration of humanity, and a remarkable advance in the judicial, political and ethical spheres. The creation of the Court was the outcome of a highly participatory process, both from States and from civil society.
The Court was only at its initial stage of operation, and it would be necessary in the months and years ahead to provide it with full support to meet challenges, he said. One of the most important steps would be to preserve the independence and integrity of the Court and to foster its universality. Its mandate could not be fully carried out if it was not truly universal and representative, and if it lacked the full support of States.
Erkki Kourula, Director-General for Legal Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, said the first session of the Assembly of States Parties had a unique role in the establishment of the ICC. The convening of the Assembly marked the beginning of the final stretch in the practical establishment of the Court. With the election of the judges and the Prosecutor of the Court, the ICC would be readily available should national jurisdictions fail to carry out their responsibility to investigate and punish crimes of international concern. The convening of the Assembly was a timely reminder of the obligation of the States Parties to adopt legislation that would give effect to the provisions on complementarity. In Finland, the necessary legislation had been drafted as part of the ratification process and adopted simultaneously with the Rome Statute in December 2000.
Following the entry into force of the Statute, several significant steps towards the effective establishment of the Court had taken place, he said. The Advance Team had fulfilled its essential functions in a commendable way. The Agreement on Privileges and Immunities needed the approval of each State in order to create the most favourable working environment for the Court. Finland intended to sign the agreement today. While relevant rules on genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes had been in place for 50 years, they had rarely been enforced. The complementarity provisions, one of the most innovative features of the Statute, sought to ensure that there would be no safe havens for serious war criminals. At the same time, they protected national prerogatives. The Rome Statute fully respected the competence and responsibility of national courts to investigate and prosecute the most serious international crimes.
The establishment of the ICC was one of the most ambitious and significant projects of international law, he concluded. Widespread support for the adoption of the Rome Statute and its swift entry into force reflected the commitment of the international community to avert situations of extreme human insecurity. If the ICC were to become a truly universal institution, it would be an instrumental part of an emerging culture of justice and accountability.
Sun suon (Cambodia) said that the first meeting of the Assembly represented another landmark in the historic process of establishing the ICC, and the international community would now fulfil its dream of creating an impartial and effective Court. The documents adopted by the Assembly were crucial in the fight for global justice and peace. International law had been strengthened and those who committed the most heinous crimes would be held accountable.
It was yet another great achievement that consensus had been reached on a procedure for the election of judges. That procedure, he said, would ensure that elections were conducted in a fair and transparent manner. Although the
78 ratifications were encouraging, they were not enough. The Court needed universality to become a worldwide legal body.
Cambodia was the first country in South Asia to ratify the ICC treaty and was among the first 60 ratifiers. Its tragic experience in the past was so much associated with what the ICC stood for, he said. In that spirit, Cambodia became a party in the hope that its experience would never be repeated anywhere in the world and that if it did happen again, those responsible would be brought to justice. He added that no one should be exempt from prosecution and the rule of law must apply to all.
Eke Ahmed Halloway, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of Sierra Leone, said the twentieth century had been the bloodiest in human history, with conflicts in which millions of civilians were persecuted and massacred in genocide and mass murders. The need for a permanent ICC to address impunity could not be felt more keenly than at the dawn of the new millennium. The first Assembly of States Parties sent a clear message that perpetrators of atrocities would no longer go unpunished.
Sierra Leone had suffered a decade-long conflict characterized by heinous crimes, he said. In June 2000, President Kabbah had requested the United Nations to assist Sierra Leone in setting up a Special Court to try those responsible for crimes against humanity and violations of international humanitarian law. The Sierra Leone experience confirmed the need for a permanent International Criminal Court. Investigations of the crimes within the jurisdiction of the Special Court for Sierra Leone had commenced. He believed that the establishment of the Special Court would facilitate the consolidation of peace and reconciliation in the whole West African subregion, by providing the accountability the people of Sierra Leone demanded.
Sierra Leone was deeply committed to the concept of a permanent international criminal jurisdiction, he said. An independent and impartial opinion on the interpretation of section 98 of the Rome Treaty and Rule 195 of the Rules of Evidence and Procedure must be sought to clarify whether bilateral agreements could be concluded between States Members and non-States Members without derogating from the purpose of the treaty. That must be urgently done to avoid reducing to ground zero what the international community had built to address impunity universally, without discrimination, fear or favour. In order for the Court to be fully effective, it must be universally accepted. He called on all States to participate in a fair and independent ICC. The world was analysing the new international judicial institution. It was up to the Assembly to make it a success.
Renaud Muselier, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France, said that while in the past century mass murders had stirred human consciences, they had not sufficiently mobilized States. Intervention by the international community, often too late, had not saved the victims from their butchers. The ICC would be a decisive instrument, if the world wanted it to be, against the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of serious human rights violations, violations that shocked the very conscience of mankind, and by their magnitude and atrocity not only affected conflict-torn regions but also threatened democracies by repudiating the foundations of the rule of law.
Impunity was one of the factors that produced instability in international relations and a self-sustaining chain of violence, he said. There could be no lasting peace settlement or reconciliation process without the victims' right to remembrance, the right to know and the right to justice. It was essential for victims to be given an autonomous place in the procedure, so that international justice would not be detached from reality. The ICC would do that, and that also was unprecedented in international law.
Referring to sceptics and opponents of the Court, he said he believed that the Court itself, whose judges and prosecutors would be chosen in a few months, would help convince the doubters by demonstrating that the mechanisms for balance -- stipulated in the Statute -- would work, and that the fears certain States had about the institution being transformed into a politicized, polemical instrument were groundless. He added that France intended to put forward a candidate for an ICC judgeship.
Lena Hjelm-Wallen, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, said that from both a national perspective and as a part of the European Union Common Position and its corresponding Action Plan, Sweden had been active at bilateral and regional levels in assisting other States in preparing for ratification and implementation of the Statute. Sweden had two fundamental interests to protect: the Common Position on the ICC and the integrity of the new Court. Sweden was ready to work with all States to solve any problems. All solutions, however, must be compatible with the Rome Statute. The integrity of the Statute must be upheld. Sweden was highly critical of all efforts to undermine the treaty through agreements not in conformity with its object and purpose.
She noted that the Assembly had reached agreement on the procedure for the election of judges. It was crucial that the criteria set out in the Statute for eligibility be observed by States Parties in the nomination process. Impartiality, integrity and qualifications were fundamental requirements. Fair representation of both female and male judges was also needed. The judges would carry a huge responsibility in adjudicating questions relating to the most heinous crimes. Impunity for such crimes would no longer be tolerated. She failed to understand concerns that the Court would be used for politically motivated purposes. The principle of complementarity and the other safeguards laid down in the Statute should dispel all concerns. The Prosecutor would be subject to strict rules governing investigation, as well as strict rules of admissibility imposed by the Court. The Rome Statute was built on a high level of justice and integrated due process protections of the highest judicial standards.
Joseph Deiss, Foreign Minister of Switzerland, said the Court must now be made genuinely operational. The Assembly lacked neither the strength nor the courage, as it was motivated by the will to protect and save children, women and men who were gravely mistreated. As long ago as 1874, Gustave Moynier had preordained the creation of an international criminal court. But only after the horrors of two world wars, the paralysis of the cold war and the traumas of Rwanda and Yugoslavia had the idea been made a reality. The creation of the ICC was also a success for the United Nations, under whose auspices the Court was established.
The Court was about to become a living entity as vacant positions of great responsibility were filled by women and men over the coming months, he said. From the start, the Court must live up to its universal vocation. The States Parties must ensure that the conditions for the Court's effective functioning were upheld at all times. The States Parties were responsible for preventing abuse and for creating an institution where the administration of justice was conscientious and efficient. Looking to the future, it was not enough to recall the responsibility of the States which supported the Court. It was also important to stress the moral responsibility of those who opposed it, so that they did not hinder the Court's activities even before it became fully operational. The Court had no jurisdiction over those States that were not party to it. It was incorrect to criticize the Court for exercising extraterritorial power. It was important to be on guard against a proliferation of immunities and exemption clauses which could undermine the authority of the Court.
He said the world needed an International Criminal Court. That in no way obscured the fact that the main responsibility for prosecuting persons accused of committing international crimes remained with the States themselves. The Court only intervened if the State concerned was unwilling or unable to act as required. In creating the Court, trust was being placed in the judges. Men and women of integrity and impartiality, protected from all forms of political bias or interference, were needed. Justice was best dispensed by judges. In that respect, the Rome Statute represented a great step forward. The creation of the Court gave reason to believe that international humanitarian law would be better respected and that the number of the worst human rights violations would be reduced.
Secretary General's Statement
The Secretary-General began his address by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., saying: "We shall have to repent in this generation, not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people, but for the appalling silence of the good people." In adopting the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, he said, good people spoke up on behalf of the innocent victims of horrendous crimes and in the name of international law. An idea that had arisen in the throes of the Holocaust and other atrocities committed during World War II had finally come to fruition.
In 1948, the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention signified the beginning of a new era in the struggle for fundamental rights and freedoms. As the ICC took its first steps, however, the quest for basic liberties had still to be won. Millions of people continue to be subjected to brutality of the worst sort and to be denied freedoms that others took for granted. The Assembly had gathered to give the Court the operational tools with which to do its part to improve that sad state of affairs.
Earlier tribunals, such as those of Nuremburg, Tokyo, Arusha and the Hague, were established after the fact, he continued. The ICC was different in that it gave advance warning that the international community would not stand by but would be ready if crimes within the Court's jurisdiction were committed. By its very existence, the Court could act as a deterrent. Countries that had established proper national criminal justice systems had nothing to fear from the Court. But where national criminal justice systems were unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute, the ICC would step in.
He said the Assembly's responsibility was to ensure that the Court began on a secure footing, including by giving it a strong financial base. The judges, Prosecutor and other high officials must meet the highest standards of legal rigour, human sensitivity and professional probity. States must take special care to nominate and elect individuals who had a wealth of experience and the qualities and qualifications needed to dispense international justice fairly and with wisdom. Above all, he said, the Court's independence, impartiality and integrity must be preserved. The ICC was not and must never become an organ for political witch hunting. Rather, it must serve as a bastion against tyranny and lawlessness and as a building block in the global architecture of collective security.
The Rome Statute provided a strong foundation for that work, he said. It contained safeguards and checks and balances to ensure that justice was done, and it set out high standards of human rights, fairness and due process. The growing number of parties to the Rome Statute was encouraging, and he urged other States to follow their example. He expressed his appreciation to civil society groups and others whose advocacy had helped bring about this day. He hoped that non-State Parties -- including those that had signed the Statute but not yet ratified it -- would give the Court the support it needed to succeed.
While these were daunting times for humankind, the world, at long last, had the missing link for the advancement of peace -- a new institution with which to battle impunity and where formerly untouchable perpetrators could be held accountable for their crimes, he said. The drive for justice had always been an integral part of the quest for international peace. As the ICC took up its formidable responsibilities, the United Nations looked forward to working in partnership with the Court in that pursuit.
Source: UN Press Release L/3014 - 10Sep02.
International Criminal Court
This document has been published on 17Sep02 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights