Today is International Criminal Justice Day. According to the International Criminal Court (ICC), “17 July unites all those who wish to support justice, promote victims' rights, and help prevent crimes that threaten the peace, security and well-being of the world”.
July 17 was chosen because it is the anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the International Criminal Court, the first permanent court with jurisdiction to try “international crimes” (genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity) committed anywhere in the world. World International Justice Day, as it is also known, was declared on June 1, 2010, at the Review Conference of the Rome Statute by the Assembly of State Parties to the ICC (ICC members).
To mark the day this year, the ICC has over the past week been running a campaign on social media inviting comments about why justice matters to people. It seems the campaign has met with considerable response. In recent comments on Facebook, people say, for example, that justice matters to them because it represents: “recognition, fairness and equality”, “treating people fairly”, “freedom from violence” (Uganda); “respect for the Rule of Law” (Mexico); “fairness”, “respect for rights”, “truth and peace”, “being loved” (DR Congo); “respect” (Kenya); “the only way forward” (UK); “hope and fairness” (Lebanon); and “the collective enjoyment of human rights” (Colombia).
Recent comments on Twitter include: “Justice is equality before the law and zero tolerance for impunity” (Côte d’Ivoire); “Let’s stop rape as a weapon of war”; “Using child soldiers is a war crime”; “for me, justice represents the path to peace”; and “get your government to act for international justice”.
Indeed, even if justice apparently matters to many ordinary people in many countries, some of their governments don’t cooperate with the ICC, even if they are ICC members. Like other international criminal courts before it, notably the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the ICC has no police force of its own and relies on member states to arrest ICC-wanted suspects. Its credibility has been put in question by its failure so far to secure the arrests of suspects such as Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony (wanted since 2005), Sylvestre Mudacamura in the DRC (wanted since 2012) and especially Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir (wanted since 2009). Bashir continues to travel there and back to various African countries, including most recently South Africa where, despite provoking High Court action and an apparent Constitutional crisis, he still managed to slip away without arrest.
The African Union has been at loggerheads with the ICC since its arrest warrant against Bashir and, more recently, proceedings against Uhuru Kenyatta, the current sitting President of Kenya. Charges against Kenyatta were dropped at the end of last year, despite having been confirmed by a pre-trial chamber of the ICC. The ICC Prosecutor said she had been forced to do so because of witness intimidation and lack of cooperation by the government of Kenya, which had undermined her evidence.
Similarly the ICTR, which is due to close its doors this year after working for 20 years, still has nine indicted suspects on the run, including Félicien Kabuga, the alleged financier of the Rwandan genocide. He is said to be protected by African governments, notably Kenya.