|United Nations Association of Greater Oklahoma City
|United Nations Association of the USA
Greater Oklahoma City Chapter
P.O. Box 60856
Oklahoma City, OK 73146-0856
The World Community Creates a Criminal
Court with International Legitimacy
How You Can Help
7 Things You Can Do To Support
JULY, 2011 -- The United Nations was born out of the experience
of World War Two. After the horrors of that devastating conflict,
world opinion was determined to "never again" allow war crimes and
crimes against humanity to go unpunished. The victorious allies con-
vened the Nuremberg Tribunals and put Nazi leaders on trial. The
Nuremberg Principles established certain guidelines that helped to in-
form public opinion and formalize international standards of law.
Yet, even after the tragedy of the Holocaust, the world suffered through additional episodes of mass murder.
Infamous examples include the killing fields of Cambodia in the 1970's, the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, and the
Srebrenica massacre of 1995.
These crimes against humanity shocked the conscience of the world. The global community turned to the United
Nations for leadership.
The UN Security Council responded by establishing two special tribunals with limited
jurisdiction -- one for crimes committed in Rwanda; another for the former Yugoslavia.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established
in 1993. Authorized by Security Council Resolution 827, it has been investigating grave
breaches of the Geneva Conventions that occurred in the former Yugosalvia -- incluiding
violations of the laws of war, genocide, and crime against humanity. The tribunal
operates in The Hague (Netherlands).
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was established in November
1994 in order to judge people responsible for the Rwandan Genocide. It was authorized
by Security Council Resolution 955. So far, the Tribunal has finished 50 trials and
convicted 29 accused persons. Another 11 trials are in progress. The ICTR is located
in Arusha, Tanzania.
Recent events have called attention to the UN's essential efforts to bring justice
to violators of international law.
In May of this year, former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic was captured by
two dozen Serbian special police officers acting on an arrest warrant issued by the ICTY.
Mladic is accused in the 1992–1995 Siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre -—
the largest mass murder in Europe since the immediate aftermath of World War II. His
trial started last month.
Meanwhile, on June 23rd, the ICTR handed a sentence of life imprisonment to a former
Rwandan government minister, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko. As reported by the New York
Times, "The court found that as family minister, she had used her political power to help
abduct and kill uncounted Tutsi men, women and children alike in her home district of
Butare in southern Rwanda."
The UN tribunals in Rwanda and Yugoslavia have played an essential role in assuring
that the perpetrators of crimes are captured, tried, and punished -- at least in those
limited jurisdictions where the tribunals are authorized to act.
But, because of the limited scope of the tribunals, there was a concern that they might
not deter future crimes in other places. As a result, a global movement arose for the
establishment of the International Criminal Court -- a permanent court of criminal justice.
A Permanent International Court of Criminal Law. The campaign was led by civil
society organizations, advocates for international law, and national figures on the cutting
edge of world opinion. At their urging, the Rome Statute for the International Criminal
Court was drafted and introduced to the UN's General Assembly. On July 17, 1998, the
treaty was approved by a vote of 120 to 7, with 21 countries abstaining.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the first new major international institution of
the 21st Century.
In many ways, the creation of the court was the result of fifty years of international
efforts. As early as the 1950's, the UN's International Law Commission saw a need for
a permanent international court, but progress was stymied by the political realities of the
One of the early advocates of the international court was Benjamin B. Ferencz, an investigator of Nazi war crimes
after World War Two. Ferencz was the Chief Prosecutor for the United States Army at the Einsatzgruppen
Trial, one of the twelve military trials held by the U.S. authorities at Nuremberg. His vocal advocacy for the
international court included a book, published in 1975, entitled "Defining International Aggression - The Search
for World Peace."
Although the ICC has been operational for less than 10 years, it has already
proven capable of investigating and bringing to trial more than 2 dozen
According to Wikipedia, as of April 2011, the ICC has publicly indicted 26
people. "The ICC has issued arrest warrants for 17 individuals and
summonses to nine others. Five individuals are in custody and are being
tried while eleven individuals remain at large as fugitives (although one is
reported to have died). Proceedings against two individuals have finished
following the death of one and the dismissal of charges against the other."
Potentially the most ambitious challenge undertaken by the ICC has been
the indictment of Moammar Qadaffi, the Libyan dictator, on June 27, 2011.
Charges were filed against Qadaffi after a referral was made by the UN
Security Council. Qaddafi is accused of ordering a wave of killings and
enforced disappearances of suspected critics of his government.
Other notable fugitives include Joseph Kony (of the Lord's Resistance
Army) and Omar al-Bashir (wanted on charges of genocide in Darfur).
It is difficult to predict the long-term impact that the International Criminal Court might ultimately have on global
politics. But, two things seem to be clear.
One, the actions of the Court offer hope to survivors of
genocide and other crimes against humanity.
“Justice must be delivered to the victims of serious human
rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian
law....” said Michael Bochenek, Director of Law and
Policy at Amnesty International. “No one should be
allowed to evade international justice.”
Two, the reality of a functional criminal court with
international legitimacy is sure to change the political
calculations of would-be tyrants and criminals.
As noted by Australia's foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, the presence of the ICC as an international institution serves
as a warning to other leaders who commit grave crimes.
Speaking of the arrest warrants that were issued for Qaddafi and two of his closest allies, Rudd commented:
"These warrants reflect the real readiness of the international community to take action when grave crimes are
"The ICC's action should
serve as a warning to those
who violate international
humanitarian law that they
can no longer commit crimes
The evolution of the UN's
international system of criminal
justice is a significant develop-
ment, to be sure. Yet, there is
always room for improvement.
For example, an immediate
concern is to persuade
additional nations to sign and
ratify the Rome Statute.
As of June 2011, 114 states were members of the court -- including all of South America, nearly all of Europe
and roughly half the countries in Africa. But, other nations which are eligible to sign and ratify the Statute have
not yet done so. The United States is among the nations that have not yet accepted the Court. (President Bill
Clinton signed the treaty in his final days in office; President George W. Bush "unsigned" it).
As the world community moves toward greater acceptance of the International Criminal Court, we can expect to
see increasing respect for the rule of law in global affairs. Ultimately, we can hope to move closer to the
global aspirations that were spoken by the survivors of World War Two (as stated in the UN Charter):
"To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war...
"To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person...
"To establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other
sources of international law can be maintained...
"To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom...."
June 16, 1998. Ben Ferencz addresses
the delegates at the Rome Conference on
the International Criminal Court.
Speaking "for those who cannot speak,
the victims..." he encouraged the
delegates to vote for the ICC, which they
did overwhelmingly on July 17, 1998.
"The ICC is bringing us
hope that we can
finally see the ful-
fillment of the right of
the victims to learn the
truth, to see the
perpetrators of these
crimes tried, and to
Winner of the 2004
Nobel Peace Prize