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The ICC celebrates its 20th birthday with Ukraine in its sights

#ICC #celebrates #20th #birthday #Ukraine #sights

The International Criminal Court marks its 20th anniversary on Friday, with the Ukraine war giving the tribunal new impetus after two decades of criticism and controversy.

Since Rome’s founding statute went into effect on July 1, 2002, the world’s only permanent war crimes court has had a poor record with just five convictions.

But the ICC, based in The Hague, remains the court of last resort for serious charges such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression when member states are unable or unwilling to prosecute.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ICC’s subsequent investigation into alleged war crimes have made the international community aware of the importance of the rule of law, says ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan.

“If we don’t comply with the law today, I think there is very little hope for tomorrow,” Khan told AFP in an interview in May.

“This growing realization was made even more acute by the events of February 24 and the events in Ukraine – and I think it is long overdue.”

To mark the occasion, the ICC is holding a special 20th anniversary conference on Friday, which will feature speakers from current President Piotr Hofmanski and Prosecutor Khan.

– “High goals” –

The court says the event is “an occasion to reflect on how well the ICC has lived up to expectations”.

But those expectations have always been high.

The ICC is the successor to the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, when the post-war international order sought an ideal of global justice.

Tribunals on the wars in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the Rwandan genocide in 1994 also laid the groundwork for a permanent court.

The Rome Statute was signed in 1998 and came into force four years later, finally allowing the Court to open its doors.

But it has since failed to capture senior government leaders, and its five convicts so far have all been African rebels, including a former child soldier.

“If you look at the legacy of the ICC given its lofty goals, the results are negligible,” Thijs Bouwknegt of the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies told AFP.

There have been high-profile failures, with former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo being acquitted, former DR Congo Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba acquitted on appeal and charges against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta dropped.

Equally damaging is the absence of key players.

The United States, which signed but never ratified the Rome Statute in 2000, has been actively hostile at times, once sanctioning the court for its Afghanistan probe.

China, Israel, Myanmar and Syria have also stayed away, along with Russia — which is said to have even sent a spy posing as an intern to target the International Criminal Court’s Ukraine probe.

– ‘Recipe for Armageddon’ –

But while there was “deserved” criticism of the ICC, the court made a “significant contribution,” said Victoria Kerr of the Asser Institute for International and European Law in The Hague.

“The ICC is not a panacea, nor should its effectiveness be measured solely by its convictions,” Kerr told AFP.

In recent years, the court has tried to improve, with new investigations into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Venezuela and the Philippines.

In Ukraine, the court now has a chance to prove its legitimacy.

Khan said the recent 43-state support for the International Criminal Court’s Ukraine probe was “not just because of what is happening in Ukraine.”

“If we look at international law as an a la carte menu for states to choose from, that’s a recipe for Armageddon,” he told AFP.

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