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August 1, 2004

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International Justice Day

All states must reinforce commitment

International Justice Day, 17 July 2004, marks the international community's historic adoption the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) six years ago. Ninety-four states, almost half the international community have ratified the Rome Statute, committing to investigate and prosecute persons accused crimes in their national courts.

In particular, on 23 June 2004, following a referral by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the ICC Prosecutor announced the opening of the court's first investigation into "serious crimes" committed in the DRC. More than three million people are estimated to have died as a result of the conflict in the eastern DRC since 1998. The Prosecutor's announcement marks a very important step towards bringing justice to the victims of these horrific crimes. Having received a second referral by the government of Uganda in January 2004, the Prosecutor is currently also examining the situation in northern Uganda in order to determine whether to open a second full investigation there.

The current administration of the United States of America has consistently opposed the ICC since May 2003 when it launched a worldwide attack seeking to undermine the ICC and secure impunity for US nationals. However, in June 2004, the international community took an important and welcome stand against these attacks.

The United Nations (UN) Security Council refused to renew an unlawful resolution proposed by the USA, which sought to prevent the ICC from exercising jurisdiction over nationals of states that have not ratified the Rome Statute when such people are accused of committing crimes in connection with UN established or authorized operations.

The ICC is not the only institution that forms part of the emerging system of international justice. This new system of justice operates at several levels. It must be emphasized that the primary responsibility for the investigation and prosecution of crimes under international law remains that of national prosecutors and courts. Since international and internationalised courts will only be able to try a small number of those responsible for the worst crimes known to humanity, national courts will continue to be the primary way for the international community to try these crimes. These courts include the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR), the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the special panels of Kosovo courts with international judges and prosecutors, the Extraordinary Chambers for Cambodia and the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

The progress in international justice this year marks the beginning of a new era where national courts, the ICC and other international and internationalized courts can deliver justice to victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It sends a strong message to those who might plan to commit such crimes that they will be held accountable for their actions.

All states must take this opportunity to reinforce their commitment to international justice by ratifying the Rome Statute in order to accept the jurisdiction of the ICC and by amending existing or enacting new national legislation to cover genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The international community must also ensure that entire system of international justice is effective. This includes the ICC, other international and internationalized courts (which have the potential to complement the ICC), and of course national courts. All of these institutions must deliver justice to all victims, meet the highest standards of international justice and have the financial and political support to function effectively. Failure to ensure this will compromise justice and undermine the rule of law.

Source: Amnesty International.

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