Establishment of an international criminal court
United Nations, General Assembly 52nd session, Sixth Committee, Agenda item 150. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) New York, 23 October 1997
On behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), I would like to thank you for this opportunity to address the Sixth Committee on the question of the establishment of a permanent international criminal court.
The ICRC has on a number of occasions emphasized the need to create such a court. It has also expressed its full support for the work undertaken by the Preparatory Committee, to which it has endeavoured to make a useful contribution. In view of the importance of this issue and the diplomatic conference scheduled for next year, we wish to reiterate some points that we consider essential for the establishment of an efficient and fair system of international criminal justice.
It is important to set up mechanisms of accountability to ensure that those responsible for violations are not given blanket amnesties. Justice must be rendered for the sake of the victims, but it is also part of a series of measures that must be taken to prevent, and put an end to, violations. If it is to be taken seriously, the law must not only exist, it must be enforced.
In cases where trial procedures in national criminal justice systems are not available or ineffective, an international criminal court would have an especially vital role to play. An efficient, widely accepted court offering maximum guarantees of fair trial, free of any political pressure, and designed to complement national justice systems, would send a clear message, both to the perpetrators of serious international crimes and to their victims, that immunity from prosecution will no longer be tolerated.
As part of its mandate to promote respect for international humanitarian law and to enhance its implementation, the ICRC is providing technical assistance to States in passing laws necessary for the investigation and prosecution of suspected war criminals, as required by the Geneva Conventions. The ICRC's Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law organized, a few weeks ago, a meeting of experts to discuss problems of penal repression at the national level. A similar meeting of experts from common-law States will be held in 1998. The aim of these meetings is to draw up guidelines concerning legislation for the repression of violations of humanitarian law and to make them available to States.
We would like to stress three points which we regard as essential for the creation of a court empowered to take adequate and effective action towards our common goal of putting an end to impunity.
First , the international criminal court must have jurisdiction over war crimes committed in international and non-international armed conflicts alike. The court must have jurisdiction over all serious violations of humanitarian law. As stated by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, " What is inhumane, and consequently proscribed, in international wars, cannot but be inhumane and inadmissible in civil strife " .
Second , the international criminal court should have inherent jurisdiction over the core crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In order for the court to be an effective complement to national courts (since the court would exercise its jurisdiction only in the event that States had failed to act), it should not be impeded by extra obsta cles, such as the requirement of State consent. Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, any State already has the right to either exercise its jurisdiction or hand over suspects of these core crimes, without having to secure the agreement of other States, thus stressing that war criminals are not immune from prosecution. Therefore, to require State consent for a particular case to be submitted to the court would be a step backwards from existing law.
Third , in order to ensure the respect for the basic principle of law that a court must be impartial and independent, prosecutions should not be subordinated to a prerogative conferred on the Security Council to prevent or delay prosecutions when it is dealing with a situation under Chapter VII of the Charter. Hence, the Prosecutor should be empowered to initiate investigations and institute proceedings ex officio .
It is the ICRC's firm hope that the proceedings of the diplomatic conference scheduled for 1998 will come to a successful and rapid conclusion. It is vital that the momentum not be lost, now that we are so close to reaching our goal.
The ICRC therefore trusts that the near future will be marked by a firm political will on the part of States to bring about the establishment of an independent and efficient international criminal court. This would lend credibility to the desire of the international community to eliminate international crimes. Such a court would act as a serious deterrent, saving countless persons in the future from the horrors and suffering caused by these crimes. The objective is clear: the atrocities must cease, those responsible for them must be held accountable, and all measures which can contribute towards achieving this goal must be taken.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.
Ref.: LG 1997-109-ENG