According to the International Association of Genocide Scholars, “In the twentieth century, genocides and state mass murder have killed more people than have all wars.”1 In addition to these deaths of innocent women, children, and men, millions more have been stripped of their rights, property, and dignity as human beings and as victims of violence.2 In many cases, the perpetrators of these crimes were never held accountable for their actions. Sometimes the nations in which these crimes occurred did not have a sufficiently robust judicial system to try alleged criminals; other times the governments themselves were complicit in the crimes.
In 1945, after the end of World War II, the international community embarked on a new approach to justice. Following the Nazi Holocaust, the Allied nations confronted an incredible moral and legal challenge: with Germany in shambles, who would hold Nazi perpetrators accountable for the unimaginable crimes they committed? To answer this challenge, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States joined together to establish the first ever international criminal trials—the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. The Nuremberg Tribunals set a precedent for other temporary international courts that were established after genocides in Yugoslavia (1993) and Rwanda (1994). The prevalence of temporary international tribunals coupled with continued violence around the world raised the question: Could it be possible to create a more permanent international criminal court? Could such a court serve as a deterrent for the worst atrocities? What crimes would come under the jurisdiction of an international criminal court? Under what conditions would this international court be able to supersede the authority of national courts? To address these questions, representatives from over 160 countries& gathered in Rome from June to July of 1998 at a meeting called the Rome Conference. Coming from diverse cultures with differing views on justice, reaching agreement about the structure of an international criminal court required careful negotiation and compromise. Despite these challenges, the document drafted at this conference, the Rome Statute, was ultimately approved by 120 countries. The Rome Statute went into effect on July 1st 2002, thus beginning the process of establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC).3
The Rome Statute consists of two parts: The Preamble of the Rome Statute articulates the purpose and vision of the ICC; and the Articles of the Rome Statute4 outline the details of the court, including the jurisdiction of the court, the relationship of the court to the United Nations, and the penalties that the court can enforce.
- Genocide : According to the Rome Statute, genocide means any acts committed with the intent to destroy an ethnic, racial, national, or religious group.
- 1 : International Association of Genocide Scholars. http://genocidescholars.org/ (accessed on October 29, 2009).
- 2 “Bring Justice to the Victims,” Background Information (May 1998), Department of Public Information, United Nations, http://www.un.org/icc/justice.htm (accessed September 22, 2009).
- accountable : Required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible.
- Nuremberg Tribunals : An international court set up after World War II to try Nazi war criminals, named for the city in Germany where the trials took place. The proceedings were divided into two stages: The International Military Tribunal (IMT) prosecuted 24 high-ranking Nazi leaders. Following the IMT, the United States, with the approval of other nations, prosecuted other Nazi criminals at trials also held in Nuremberg.
- deterrent : As a legal term, a “deterrent” refers to something that discourages a person, group, or nation from committing a crime. Supporters of the ICC claim that having an international criminal court acts as a deterrent because potential perpetrators know that they can be caught and punished for their offenses.
- Statute : In terms of international law, a written document that establishes a new agency, such as the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court. A statue defines the purpose and limitations of this new agency. (Statute can also refer to a law passed by the legislative branch of a government.)
- jurisdiction : The area or categories over which a state or an organization can govern or apply the law. As of 2009, the jurisdiction of the ICC is limited to crimes that have taken place since July 1, 2002. The only crimes that can be prosecuted by the ICC are crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. The ICC can only investigate crimes committed by citizens of member states, crimes referred to it by a member state, or crimes referred to by the United Nations Security Council.
- 3 : “Rome Statute Ratification Chart by Region (based on CICC categories),” Ratification and Implementation: Ratification of the Rome Statute, Coalition for the International Criminal Court,http://www.iccnow.org/ (accessed September 22, 2009).
- United Nations : An international organization established in 1945 that aims to maintain peace throughout the world.
- 4 : The entire text of the Rome Statute can be found at http://untreaty.un.org.
- United Nations