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Rome - Conference on international criminal court: Ecouragement, hope and some apprehension

18-06-1998 News Release 98/24

The Diplomatic Conference on the establishment of an international criminal court opened in Rome on 15 June. For the next five weeks, the participants'attention will focus mainly on the finalization of the future court's draft statute, which is regarded as crucial. By mid-July States should have at their disposal a treaty to be ratified at the earliest possible date.

Among other matters, the Conference will have to agree on definitions which are sufficiently broad to address the types of crime committed in today's conflicts. These definitions will relate to the court's independence vis-à-vis States and the United Nations Security Council, to its sphere of activity (what constitutes a war crime, a crime against humanity and genocide), and to the way in which it will function (how a case will be brought before it). The court should serve as a complement to national jurisdictions rather than being a substitute for them.

For the ICRC, the establishment of an international criminal court is of special importance. Indeed, the ICRC believes that this development will give greater weight to Article 1 common to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions, whereby States undertake not only to respect the provisions of the Conventions but also to ensure respect for them. The future court will help put an end to impunity for war criminals and those responsible for acts of genocide. It could also help promote national reconciliation in countries beset by violence and have a significant deterrent effect. For these reasons, the ICRC feels that the Conference must yield tangible and credible results.

During the opening plenary, ICRC President Cornelio Sommaruga drew attent ion to three points which the ICRC considers essential for the success of the project. He stated: " The international criminal court must have jurisdiction over crimes committed in all types of armed conflict, whether international or otherwise; it should be competent to try crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes when a State is party to the treaty; and, lastly, the court's prosecutor should be empowered to conduct investigations and institute proceedings on his or her own initiative, although in such an event the principle of complementarity must be respected " . 

A document detailing the ICRC's position as regards the international criminal court may be obtained from the ICRC Press Division in Geneva.