Ten years ago, on 17th July 1998, the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court adopted the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court. It was a significant step in the development of international criminal law, in the desire to actually fight impunity and for the development of the whole of public international law. Today, ten years later, this permanent court has been able to come a long way. Although critics most likely will highlight that the court has not yet issued any final judgments and that the prosecutor doesn’t work as efficiently as he could/should, one nevertheless has to acknowledge the accomplishments so far (international lawyers are optimists by nature after all). International (criminal) law has never been very quick in its development; why should the establishment of an international criminal court be an exception? But what are the most important accomplishments? Without wanting to cover all different suggestions that could be put forward as possible answers to that question, just let me raise one particular detail: the pressure created by the courts general activities.
I believe that the mere existence of the court and the activities of the prosecutor and the court create a political incentive that cannot be underestimated; especially in the long run. In other words, the main achievement of the court is political in nature. Surely, every lawyer has a good reason to be somewhat unsatisfied with this finding. Looking for firm establishments of procedural rules at international courts, or for details on the interpretation of definitions of core crimes or details on the relation between the court and other international organisations/institutions (e.g. UN Security Council or truth and reconciliation commissions) you may certainly look back at the past ten years and feel “underpaid” for the effort once invested in the creation of the court. But the court surely is a strong manifest for the conviction that perpetrators of grave crimes can also be held responsible at an international level. It is certainly not easy to point to particular cases where the court’s mere existence has prevented the perpetration of severe crimes. But the attention that the court receives on the international political level, even (or in particular) by its critics and opponents, seems to suggest that committing an international crime and/or getting away with it has become somewhat more difficult.
Not at least the developments of the past days show that everything the court touches upon is immediately observed by a worldwide media attention, that every detail of its activities is scrutinized and challenged (not only by lawyers). Whether the question of disclosure of evidence (a procedural issue that shouldn’t really surprise anybody to have arisen considering the pioneering character of the court; see also here), the uncertain role of the victim in various stages of the procedure or the question of which investigations the Office of the Prosecutor should officially open (see also here); everything the court does seems to be of general interest. And I believe rightfully so. The court has its roots in the general awareness of the world (“all peoples are united by common bonds, their cultures pieced together in a shared heritage, and concerned that this delicate mosaic may be shattered at any time“) and thus must get used to being at the center of attention.
Just to round up our coverage of the ICC (at least for the time being): apparently, Suriname has become the 107th country to join the court. Just two days ago Suriname acceded to the Rome Statute after the parliament unanimously passed the ICC Bill of Accession.