By Judge Sang-Hyun Song, President of the International Criminal Court
Ten years ago, history was made. On 1 July 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) emerged as the centrepiece of a new system of international justice, carrying the hope of a future free of impunity and mass atrocities. To turn this hope into a firm reality, the ICC needs the support of nations everywhere.
In 1950, war broke out in my home country, Korea. For three months, during the battle for Seoul city, my family was hiding in a hot and humid underground bunker. At nine years old, I had to walk 16 km every day to find food and to bring it back to the bunker. As bombs fell from the sky, I ran for cover, dropping the groceries I held in my arms. I will never forget walking past the hundreds of dead bodies lying on the streets. To this day, I can still smell the horrible stench of the corpses decomposing in the blistering heat.
Sixty years later, in my capacity as President of the ICC, I met with victims in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some were former child soldiers grappling to rebuild their lives. Some had suffered sexual violence. Others were missing arms or legs, or lips or ears, which had been intentionally cut off. I asked myself: how can such cruelty be committed in the 21st century? Does humanity ever learn?
Unfortunately, crimes against humanity and other mass atrocities continue to occur. These crimes tear societies apart and leave scars that take generations to heal. Such acts should not and must not go unpunished. Justice needs to prevail if we wish to put an end to such crimes one day.
This is the hope that the International Criminal Court embodies. It arose from the determination of people on all continents to put a stop to monstrosities that have poisoned our planet for too long.
To prevent mass violence and genocide, our response must be global and unified. We must summon the hopes and commitments of new generations around the world. We need wide-ranging, diverse and vocal support from all countries to generate the vigilance that makes the rule of law strong and prevents such heinous crimes.
For all those who seek a lasting peace and a safe future for the humankind, the ICC is a natural avenue. Ratifying the Rome Statute is a powerful demonstration of a State’s commitment to peace, justice and the rule of law.
The ICC currently has 121 States Parties, and many more are actively considering joining this evolving system of international criminal justice. Every country that ratifies the Rome Statute adds another brick to a wall that protects future generations from unspeakable atrocities.
The ICC is not a substitute for national courts, prosecutors or police. Under the Rome Statute, States and their national jurisdictions retain the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute atrocity crimes. But if that is not possible for any reason, the ICC is there to help, as a safety net.
After ratification of the Rome Statute, anyone intending to commit genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes on your territory would risk prosecution by the ICC and arrest in any of the 121 States Parties. In this way, the Rome Statute offers important legal protection to each State Party’s population.
Membership in the ICC can be a powerful deterrent against the worst atrocities. Recently, a government minister from one of the States Parties told me that the prospect of ICC intervention was a crucial factor that helped prevent large-scale violence during the country’s elections.
The Rome Statute system of justice is not only about punishment; it is also about helping communities and empowering victims. For the first time in the history of international criminal justice, victims have the opportunity to apply for reparations and to participate in proceedings with the help of legal representatives. The Trust Fund for Victims created by the Rome Statute is assisting more than 80.000 victims, providing reproductive health services, vocational training, trauma-based counselling, reconciliation workshops, reconstructive surgery and more.
I invite all nations to make justice universally accessible for victims of the gravest crimes. Tomorrow, on 14 November 2012, the ICC’s member states will gather in The Hague, Netherlands, for their annual meeting, to take important decisions concerning the ICC as well to renew their determination to end impunity. Every year, the family of ICC nations grows. Your country has a place in it, too.
Song Sang-Hyun is a South Korean lawyer, and the President of the International Criminal Court. He taught as a professor of law at Seoul National University Law School and a number of other law schools. Song was re-elected President of the Court on 11 March 2012 for a second three year tenure