On Wednesday, International Justice Day will be celebrated throughout the world to encourage an emerging system of international criminal justice.
The date, July 17, is the anniversary of the 1998 adoption of the Rome Statute, 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. Through its role in prosecuting individuals, the criminal court is distinct from the International Court of Justice, which settles disputes among nations. Both courts are located at The Hague in the Netherlands.
Why do we celebrate International Justice Day? It’s an opportunity to focus attention on what the International Criminal Court has accomplished and on efforts through this emerging system of international justice to prevent the recurrence of the horrendous crimes we read about in the news far too often.
By celebrating International Justice Day, we can also encourage the U.S. Congress to support international justice by approving the International Criminal Court treaty. By signing on, the United States would join 122 other nations in supporting a system of justice aimed at reducing the terrible large-scale crimes that have been committed by individuals far too often in the distant and recent past. By becoming a signatory, the U.S. would also gain a full voice in governing the International Criminal Court.
Each year, more nations become signatories to the Rome Statute. The position of the U.S. regarding the court has varied widely, but so far it has resisted ratification. However, the U.S. has been actively participating without a vote in the court’s governing body, the Assembly of States Parties, increasingly in recent years.
Further, the U.S. has been voting in the U.N. Security Council in favor of referring alleged criminals to the court for trial. The court follows the Principle of Complementarity, which means it will only intervene if a defendant’s country is unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute him or her for one or more of the above-mentioned crimes. For nations with responsible governments and effective systems of justice, there is no danger the International Criminal Court will intervene.
Since the International Criminal Court statute took effect in 2002, the court has indicated dozens of people and has has investigations ongoing in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya and Ivory Coast.The court is also conducting preliminary investigation of individuals in Afghanistan, Colombia, Guinea, Georgia, Honduras, Mali, Nigeria, Palestine and North Korea. Investigations have resulted in arrests, imprisonment and, in some cases, acquittal.
As with national justice systems like ours in the United States, the goal of the International Criminal Court is to discourage the commission of crimes. The creation of a permanent international court to prosecute individuals responsible for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity 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 International Criminal Court can accomplish these important goals — and that the United States soon commits its full support to the effort.
Ronald B. Davis of Orono is a professor emeritus in the School of Biology and Ecology at the University of Maine. He is a member of the Orono Peace Group and the Maine chapter of Citizens for Global Solutions.