The first ever permanent international court that prosecutes war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, etc. has decided to start trying the first case - against Congo. This court was dreamt up along with the establishment of the Nuremberg Tribunal that prosecuted the attrocities commited by the Nazi regime -many hoped it would be a continuation of it. Yet the Cold War froze the efforts and it took half a century to establish such a body. Over 90 states ratified the Rome Statute which establishes the ICC. United States signed the treaty, but never ratified it. Instead, U.S. sent a note to the Secretary General of the UN along with their signature: "This is to inform you, in connection with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court adopted on July 17, 1998, that the United States does not intend to become a party to the treaty. Accordingly, the United States has no legal obligations arising from its signature on December 31, 2000. The United States requests that its intention not to become a party, as expressed in this letter, be reflected in the depositary's status lists relating to this treaty." (www.un.org)
I wonder, why support the creation of ICC for years, sign it, but proclaim immediately no intent to participate (one thinks of a parallel with the League of Nations). Despite this major shortcoming I am glad to see ICC in action. It is a historic event indeed and I hope it will do its job to hold governments accountable for their actions. Here is an article about the first filed case from the Human Rights Watch listserve:
ICC's First-Ever Probe Must Be Effective
Criminal Responsibility in Congo Conflict Reaches Across
(Brussels, June 23, 2004) - Amid recent killings and rapes by government
and rebel soldiers in the eastern Congo, the decision by the International
Criminal Court's (ICC) prosecutor to systematically investigate war
crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo could not be more timely,
Human Rights Watch said today.
Luis Moreno Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor, today June 23, announced the
beginning of this first-ever investigation by the prosecutor's office of this newly established court. Earlier this year, the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) transitional government triggered the action by requesting
the ICC prosecutor to investigate crimes in the Congo. The prosecutor's
office can investigate where national courts are unable or unwilling to do
so, and its authority can be triggered by a formal request from the state
"There will be no meaningful transition in the Congo without putting an
end to impunity for the horrific crimes that have characterized the conflict
there," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice program
at Human Rights Watch. "The recent killings and rapes in the eastern
Congo underscore the urgent need for a thorough and effective
investigation into these and other horrific crimes."
Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 5,000 civilians died from
direct violence in Ituri between July 2002 and March 2003, with hundreds
more having died in this eastern region during the past year. These victims
are in addition to the 50,000 civilians who died there since 1999,
according to U.N. estimates. Since the formation of the transitional
government in Kinshasa last year, several thousand more have died in
deliberate attacks on civilians by armed groups in the Northern Katanga
These losses are just part of an estimated total of 3.3 million civilians dead throughout the Congo, a toll that makes this war more deadly to civilians than any other since World War II. In Bukavu, south Kivu, both
government and dissident forces carried out war crimes, killing and raping
civilians in their battle to control the city. This is only the latest round of fighting in the eastern parts of Congo, where massive violations of human rights have become commonplace.
Women and girls have been particularly targeted in the Congo, with most
of the forces involved in the conflict using sexual violence as a weapon of
war. The United Nations estimates that more than 40,000 women and
girls may have been raped in the eastern parts of Congo over the past five
years, some as young as three years of age.
The Ituri conflict, as well as others in eastern DRC, highlights the
participation of non-Congolese forces. Human Rights Watch believes that
Ugandan and Rwandan officials, among others, may be implicated in
some of these crimes and the prosecutor's investigation should look
beyond the borders of the DRC.
"We urge Luis Moreno Ocampo to follow the trail of criminality across
national borders and investigate not only Congolese warlords, but their
foreign backers as well," Dicker said. "With this investigation, the
Prosecutor has the chance to send a message across the Great Lakes
Region that impunity for these horrific crimes is coming to an end."
Human Rights Watch also highlighted the challenges of working with
victims and witnesses.
"This investigation may set the standard for others to follow. It's of the
utmost importance that investigators work carefully with victims and
witnesses they are mandated to serve," Dicker said.
The International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, has broad
international support. Currently, 94 countries have ratified the Rome
Statue establishing the court, and nearly 140 have signed this treaty. Last
year, these states elected the court's first 18 judges and prosecutor.
For more information about the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the
Congo, see http://www.hrw.org/doc?t=africa&c=congo
For more information about the ICC, see