Speech on behalf of the EU by Minister for Justice Lene Espersen at the first General Assembly of The International Criminal Court

Date : 09/09/2002
News item : Speeches
Policy area : General Affairs and External Relations

Mr. President,

1. In the absence of the Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs, I am very pleased to have the honour to speak for him on behalf of the European Union. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe associated with the European Union Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the associated countries Cyprus and Malta, as well as the EFTA countries belonging to the European Economic Area Iceland and Norway align themselves with this statement.

Mr. President,

2. It is a privilege for me to be given the opportunity to speak at the first meeting of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court - yet another historic moment in the establishment of an effective system of international criminal justice and in the progressive development of international law.

3. In recent years, the world has witnessed atrocities that offend the conscience of human kind: Genocide; mass executions of political opponents; ethnic cleansing; systematic rape as a means of "warfare". This has compelled the international community to respond, and compels us to continue to move forward in preventing and punishing these heinous crimes. It is imperative to restore the rule of law and to end impunity in such cases. It is a matter of justice. But it is also a matter of peace and security. The prospects for lasting peace and reconciliation are severely undermined, if war criminals remain at large.

4. Time and again, we have been helpless in the face of the failure of national criminal law systems to punish the perpetrators of atrocities and those behind them. But if we do our job right, the ICC will prove to be an effective and credible remedy. Individuals - of whatever rank in society - who participate in serious and widespread violations of international humanitarian law can no longer expect to be acting with impunity. We are convinced that the ICC will serve as a deterrent and a mechanism of accountability in the years to come.

Mr. President,

5. In Rome, the diplomatic conference successfully finalized the treaty creating the ICC. 139 signatures and 79 ratifications so far are evidence of a broadly shared international commitment to prosecute those responsible for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole - genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and, in time, the crime of aggression.

6. In New York, the Preparatory Commission successfully finished its tasks. The draft instruments have been completed through remarkable and focused efforts of all delegations during the 10 sessions of the Preparatory Commission. During the first week of the Assembly of States Parties, delegations have shown the same productivity and spirit of compromise in order to adopt these documents - resisting the temptation to reopen discussions on delicate compromises already agreed upon by consensus.

7. Once again, we would like to express our acknowledgement and appreciation of the great work undertaken by the coalition of NGO's without which the project would not have come this far.

8. Now, it is time to move the focus to the operation of the Court in The Hague. It is time for the diplomats and the politicians to leave it to the Court to successfully complete what was started in Rome and continued in New York. The ICC must establish itself as an effective and independent institution, capable of adequately responding to the needs of today's international society. It must exercise its jurisdiction - effectively and independently - in the same way as we have come to expect from national judicial systems.

9. But major challenges for the politicians and the diplomats remain. We must continue to pursue the aim of universal adherence to the Statute, while at the same time guarding the integrity thereof. As a result of the ratification by States belonging to all legal systems and regions of the world, the entry into force of the Statute has been assured, and the basis for universality has been established. However, we are still far from our objective of a truly universal Court. Therefore, States, groups of States, international institutions and civil society organisations must continue to join their efforts in order to generate world-wide support for the ICC and to promote the widest possible participation in the Statute. Furthermore, it is necessary to develop the implementing legislation in participating States. The EU will do its utmost to ensure that the threshold of 100 States Parties be crossed before the 1st of April 2003.

10. In furtherance of these objectives, the EU Council of Ministers has recently adopted a revised Common Position on the International Criminal Court. An EU Action Plan has also been elaborated. These instruments demonstrate our commitment to remain in the forefront in the process of setting up the International Criminal Court, the principles of which are fully in line with EU principles and objectives. And these instruments explain why the European Union rejects any attempt to undermine the integrity of the Statute and of the Court, which is to be an effective tool of the international community to buttress the rule of law and combat impunity for the gravest crimes.

Mr. President,

11. At present, some States are hesitant towards adhering to the Statute. They fear prosecution of their nationals for politically motivated purposes. The EU continues to stand ready to address these concerns and seek solutions through frank and constructive dialogue with all States having such or other concerns. At the same time, we are convinced that the ICC will establish itself as a legitimate judicial institution capable of bringing to justice those responsible for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community in a fair, competent and effective manner. And when this happens, we trust that also States that are at present hesitant will see merit in becoming parties to the Statute.

Mr. President,

12. The EU remains firmly committed to the ICC. It is an essential means of promoting respect for international humanitarian law. It will contribute to freedom, justice and the rule of law. And it will contribute to the preservation of peace and to the strengthening of international security. In short, we see it as a realization of the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Source: The Danish Presidency of the European Union official web site. Visited 17 September 2002.

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This document has been published on 17Sep02 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights