Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union concerning the entering into force of the Statute for the International Criminal Court

Date : 01/07/2002
News item : CFSP statements
Policy area : General Affairs and External Relations

The entry into force today of the Statute for the International Criminal Court is a major leap in the progressive development of international law. Although many states, including European Union Member States, have since the time of the League of Nations supported the establishment of a permanent international criminal court, the drafting of a statute for such a court within the United Nations framework was delayed for many years. However, in the 1990's, we saw that the creation of international institutions for bringing to justice individuals suspected of gross violations of human rights had become possible. A growing consensus was emerging as to the need for a strengthened international order. Although criminal law has traditionally been a national matter, the international community was increasingly willing to accept a criminal jurisdiction exercised by international legal bodies as a substitute to national jurisdiction with a view to enhancing international humanitarian law and human rights. The setting up of the ad hoc tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia in 1993 and Rwanda in 1994 constituted a turning point. The European Union fully supported their establishment and continues to support their operation.

However, many states continued to feel that a permanent court was called for - in other words, that further steps should be taken to develop the international legal order. The adoption of the Statute for a permanent International Criminal Court at the diplomatic conference in Rome in July 1998 was, therefore, a truly historic moment in this process of furthering the rule of law and the fight against impunity.

So today we are at another historic milestone: Only four years after the adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court in Rome, we are celebrating its entry into force. No less than 74 States from all parts of the world have already become party to the Statute, and 139 States have signed it.

The European Union would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those who promoted the idea of a permanent international criminal court during the years when even optimists thought the idea impossible. It is also worth noting the powerful joining of efforts, which the idea of the court inspired. States, groups of states, international institutions and civil society, including academia - all have worked together, joined by the common goal of putting an end to impunity for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole. The European Union wishes to express in particular its acknowledgement and appreciation of the great work undertaken by the coalition of NGOs without which the project would not have come this far.

We are now on a fast track towards the actual establishment of the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Much work still needs to be done. We must ensure through meticulous planning that the Court will be in a position to carry out its work. In particular, we have to ensure that the appropriate mechanisms are in place for the Court to begin functioning effectively as early as possible. The weighty responsibility for getting the Court off to a successful start - for bringing it alive - rests on all of our shoulders. The European Union will do its utmost to assist the Preparatory Commission and its Bureau in this task.

However, the European Union is of the opinion that contributing to the finalising of the outstanding issues is only one of our responsibilities. The European Union is working towards making the Court truly universal by encouraging as many states as possible to ratify the Statute as the Court's credibility and chances of working effectively are largely dependent on its general acceptance in the international community.

The European Union expresses a strong hope that also those countries hesitant at present towards adhering to the Statute will join as soon as possible, so much so because we believe that the court will prove itself as an effective, competent and fair legal institution. Furthermore, the European Union confirms that it stands ready to cooperate with those countries, which may request advice on the scope or operational modalities of the ICC.

The EU deeply regrets that the US veto yesterday of a resolution extending the mandate of the UN mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina has placed the Security Council members in a difficult situation with regard to support for UN peacekeeping and adherence to their commitment to the ICC Statute. The EU welcomes and affirms the positions set out in the statements made in explanation of vote in the Security Council by EU members France, Ireland and the United Kingdom, concerning immunity of peacekeepers. The EU hopes that members of the Security Council will adhere to the Secretary General's strong appeal within the coming days. The EU would accept any solution that respects the Statute and does not undermine the effective functioning of the Court in conformity with the amended EU Council Common Position of 20 June 2002 endorsed by a number of associated states.

The past century witnessed the worst crimes in the history of mankind. Yet, few perpetrators have been brought to justice. Let us together establish a credible, fair and effective International Criminal Court which will serve as a deterrent - as a signal that impunity will no longer be tolerated.

Let us together bring this Court alive.

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 align themselves with this statement.

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