Archived page: may contain outdated information!
  • Send page
  • Print page

Statement on the establishment of an International Criminal Court

18-07-1998 Statement

United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, Final plenary meeting, Rome, 18 July 1998. Statement by Mr Yves Sandoz, head of delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Mr President,

On behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross, I wish to thank you for giving me this final opportunity to speak to the Conference.

You know how much importance the ICRC attaches to the establishment of an effective International Criminal Court. With the adoption of the Statute, such a court may finally see the light of day, a tale of success for which thanks must be given to all those who have worked untiringly towards what many considered a pipe dream.

The text of the Statute is substantial and should enable the Court to engage in effective battle against major war criminals, many of whom live on, undisturbed, in defiance of the international community, their impunity a real incitement to crime.

But let us not be over triumphant.

First, the substantial rules of the Statute must still be supplemented: the possibility of revising them seven years after their entry into force is therefore to be applauded. In the meantime, however, no time should be lost in drawing up the annex concerning the use of indiscriminate weapons, especially weapons of mass destruction, for their exemption would be hard to understand. Consolidation of the ban on the use of anti-personnel mines and blinding weapons should, moreover, allow the Court to ban their use as well in the first revision of the Statute.

In regard to non-international conflicts, whose inclusion as a matter of substance we welcome, the lack of specific provisions mentioning the use of famine, indiscriminate attacks and prohibited weapons is to be regretted. Is it not true that today we recognize that it is unacceptabl e to use against one's own people weapons which are banned from use against an external enemy?

Furthermore, although the substance of the Statute is good overall, that does not necessarily suffice to make the Court effective. The States not bound by the Statute will have an easy time of it since war criminals who have perpetrated crimes on their territory or who have their nationality cannot be prosecuted without their agreement. In internal conflicts - which are by far the most numerous - the same State has jurisdiction on both grounds and can thus oppose any attempt at prosecution by the Court. In addition, Article 111bis gives even a State party the right - albeit temporary - to exclude from the Court's jurisdiction war criminals of its nationality throughout the world and for conflicts taking place on its territory. Let us say it unequivocally, Article 111bis is a hollow stone in the construction of the Court.

So what can be done to make this Court effective, to make the enormous task accomplished meaningful?

States must sign and ratify the Statute in great number, or the Court will remain an empty shell. They must also give it the resources to be effective by ensuring it has adequate funding and by recruiting judges, a prosecutor and staff of irreproachable quality and integrity. I am convinced that the key to the Court's success is to allow it to prove its competence and thus to win everyone's trust. I have been struck throughout the discussions here in Rome by the mistrust that still surrounds the creation of this new institution: if this mistrust is dissipated by the exemplary quality of the Court's work then accessions will increase, the Statute will improve and the way out in Article 111bis will disappear.

Let us not forget that we still have far to go and that major war criminals must be pursued swiftly and relentlessly, on behalf of all those they murder, loot, ra pe and torture. Efforts must therefore be intensified, while the Court is being set up, to implement the universal obligation to prosecute and try war criminals wherever they are and to develop national legislation in this field.

In this context, the International Committee of the Red Cross will continue to offer the support of its Advisory Service. It is also ready to assist the Preparatory Commission, in particular in helping define the elements of crimes with regard to war crimes.

Mr President,

Allow me to say in conclusion that the Statute that has just been adopted offers States an extraordinary opportunity, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, to unite in defending fundamental values and to give true meaning to the concept of " international community " : I hope they will take it.

Thank you for your attention.

Ref. LG 1998-063-ENG