International Criminal Court marks ten years but struggle for justice continues

Sunday marked the tenth anniversary of the International Criminal Court, an organisation that Amnesty International campaigned to be set up and has both closely monitored and supported in the ten years of its existence.

The ICC came into being after years of campaigning by victims and non-governmental organisations from across the globe. What initially started as fledgling initiative grew over the years into the Coalition for the International Criminal Court which today includes 2,500 organisations from 150 countries around the world.

Amnesty International has been part of this initiative from the very beginning, contributing to the development of the Rome Statute, and I remember well how local members helped to lobby politicians to get our and other governments to ratify it. Now our Campaign for International Justice continues to work to ensure that victims have access to justice and reparation before the ICC and elsewhere.

On the 10th anniversary of the ICC – there is much to celebrate. The establishment of the world’s first permanent international criminal court responsible for bringing to justice perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes was a great victory for victims of those crimes.

With 121 states already party to the Rome Statute and making progress towards implementing its provision in their domestic law too, the ICC is rapidly establishing a system of international justice around the globe.

Ten years later, the ICC is a fully functional institution investigating cases in seven situation countries (Sudan (Darfur), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, Central African Republic (CAR), Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, and Libya). The Office of the Prosecutor is currently examining allegations of crimes in seven other situations in order to determine whether to open investigations: Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, Republic of Korea, Honduras and Nigeria.

On 14 March 2012, the ICC issued its first ever verdict. It convicted Thomas Lubanga Dyilo (DRC) for the use of child soldiers. This judgment sent a message around the world that using child soldiers is a crime for which perpetrators will be brought to account. The judgment was hailed as a milestone for international justice by Amnesty and others.

Several serving or former heads of state including Omar Al-Bashir, Muamar al-Gaddafi and Laurent Gbagbo have been named in ICC arrest warrants, sending a message that no-one is above the law. While Omar Al-Bashir is yet to be surrendered to the ICC, more and more states are refusing to host him in their territory. The change of venue earlier this month of the African Union Summit to Addis Ababa following Malawi’s refusal to offer President Bashir safe haven is an indication that the ICC and international justice enjoys increasing support across Africa.

Although 121 states have ratified the Rome Statute, many have not. This leaves numerous victims of crimes in countries which are not states parties without access to justice. The UN Security Council, which could refer such situations to the ICC Prosecutor, has failed to do so on a number of occasions.

This failed leadership and politicization in the situations such as Syria is another disappointment.

The inaction of the UN Security Council in this case – apart from denying justice to the victims of the worst crimes imaginable – also negatively impacts on perceptions of the ICC as an impartial institution that does not discriminate between victims. With the death toll in Syria now between 10,000 to 15,000 men, women and children garnering only weak responses from the UN Security Council, some have been asking if it is still fit for its role of safeguarding international peace and security.

Where the ICC does have jurisdiction, governments are blocking justice for victims by failing to cooperate fully with the Court, particularly in relation to failing to arrest suspects charged by the Court (including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir) and assist with witness protection and relocation.

Similarly, major donors are refusing to increase the ICC’s budget as its activities increase, which is having a direct impact on the scope of the ICC’s work.

So significant challenges still remain and Amnesty International is marking the anniversary by launching an online campaigning platform Demand Justice – which will help victims and activists from across the globe to together fight against impunity.

Check out the video (CAUTION: some harrowing images) and then please support and spread the word about our campaign for international justice.