International Justice Day is celebrated throughout the world on July 17 to recognize and encourage an emerging system of international criminal justice. This date was chosen because it is the anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute in 1998 which created the International Criminal Court, the first permanent international court to prosecute individuals alleged to be responsible for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
There are currently 116 nations that have signed the ICC treaty. Each year more nations sign on, but not yet the United States.
The U.S. has resisted supporting the ICC during the early years of the court’s existence, but increasingly in the past few years the U.S. has been actively participating without vote in the court’s governing body, the Assembly of States Parties. Further, the U.S. has been voting in the UN Security Council in favor of referring alleged criminals to the court for trial, most recently Muammar Gaddafi.
The court follows the Principle of Complementarity, which means that it will only intervene if the defendant’s country is unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute him or her for the above-mentioned crimes. For nations with responsible governments and effective systems of justice, there is no danger that the ICC will intervene.
There are now six active investigations before the court: the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur in Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Libya. Eighteen arrest warrants for allegedly responsible individuals have been issued, and three trials are in process.
Further, the ICC prosecutor had recently requested authorization from the court’s judges to open an investigation in Cote d’Ivoire. His office has also made public that it is examining at least eight situations on four continents, including Afghanistan, Columbia, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, Republic of Korea, Nigeria and Palestine.
Parallel with national justice systems like ours in the United States, the goal of the ICC is to discourage the committing of crimes. The creation of a permanent international court to prosecute individuals responsible for these crimes is relatively new, and aims to discourage leaders from violating the proper norms of human behavior in the future.
So let us celebrate International Justice Day, and hope that the emerging system of international justice will help prevent the recurrence of the horrendous crimes we all read about in the news.
Further, we encourage the U.S. Congress to support international justice by approving the ICC treaty so our country will have a full voice in governing the ICC, and to show that, along with over 100 other nations, the U.S. supports a system of justice aimed at reducing the terrible crimes that have occurred far too often in the distant and recent past.
Ronald B. Davis of Orono is a member of the Orono Peace Group and the Maine Chapter of Citizens for Global Solutions.