Reflections on the ICC

By Judge Norman Dyson | 2002-07-01 12:00:00

By early 1998 there had been many preparatory meetings over several years in connection with the proposed International Criminal Court (ICC). The last of these events before the big meeting in Rome in July 1998 took place in the late spring of 1998 at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Having had a keen interest in such an international mechanism for a long time, I decided to check out the meeting. My good friend Metta Spencer introduced me by telephone to Fergus Watt and instantly I became a representative for the Canadian Branch of the World Federalists Movement.

The walk every morning from my daughter's apartment on East 28th Street to the United Nations took about 15 minutes. The cacophony of shouts, whistles, horns, sirens, accelerating motors and the slamming of brakes that one endured walking up Second or Third Avenue was absolutely calming compared to the tension generated by the shrill exchanges in the meeting room. The room was fairly large with a rectangular table that would accommodate about 50 people, with chairs behind those at table which would accommodate a further 50 persons.

The gathering was generally presided over by Bill Pace, the able head of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC). This organization is a network of over 1,000 civil society organizations around the world, having the common goal of the establishment an ICC.

The participants in this room did not represent any of the 148 countries that were represented at the preparatory meeting, but were members of the NGOs that were there to influence the official delegates to develop a document that would provide the basis for a fair, effective and independent ICC.


The process each day was to have the delegations from different countries attend this room to present their positions, after which a so-called Q&A period would be allowed.

The civility of the Q&A depended on how closely the delegates adhered to the Coalition's major thrust; of reducing the influence of Security Council and increasing the independence of the chief prosecutor.

I was impressed with the aplomb and suaveness of the Russian delegates, who remained oblivious to the loud, angry and rude outbursts from frustrated activists. It was obvious they were disingenuous about the formation of an ICC, but remained polite nevertheless.

A thin-skinned French delegation of four delegates lasted about three minutes into the Q&A. The head of the delegation announced that they refused to suffer any further such rudeness and stormed out. The Coalition members had hardly warmed to their task. Consequently, I was surprised to learn France became a signatory and indeed ratified the treaty in June 2000, a month before Canada's ratification.


For me, it was a miracle that out of this chaos a couple of months later on July 17, 1998, the Rome Statute of the ICC was adopted by a vote of 120 to 7, with 21 abstentions. Too much can never be said about Canada's contribution to this seminal occurrence. Without the tenacity, innovation, and diplomacy displayed by our delegation, spearheaded by Philippe Kirsch with the full support of Lloyd Axworthy at External Affairs, this blessed event may well not have come to pass.

With 66 ratification obtained by April 11, 2002, the treaty enters into force on July 1, 2002, pursuant to the provisions of the Rome Statute.

There will be all sorts of obvious initial problems and growing pains. Doubtless, the cost of the organization will require substantial assessments on "an ability to pay" basis, which may cause some complications. For instance, Norway, with a per capita income of $34,000 per year, would expect to pay proportionately more than Nigeria, which has a $300 per capita income. However, whatever the cost of the court, it will be a drop in the bucket compared to what militarism costs humanity. There probably will not be any trials by the court for at least two years, which may attract the usual criticisms of the court.

An analysis of the current 66 countries reveals some interesting facts: seventeen of the countries have less than two million in population. Twenty six of the ratifiers are European, including Andorra and Liechtenstein (most of these countries have experienced the horrors of war first hand).

Eighteen of the countries have significant economic and military power and the total population of the 66 ratifiers exceeds 900 million people.

Theoretically, at least, and I believe it will be demonstrated empirically, the countries that become member states and their people will be more insulated from the ravages of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide by joining as a party state and submitting to the limited jurisdiction of the ICC.


With the safeguards built into the treaty to eliminate frivolous prosecutions it seems almost irrational for countries not to become member states, but we have come to expect negative responses from rulers of countries that consider power, material comfort and military might more important than the welfare of their own populace or humanity in general.

Without question, the ICC is here to stay and will provide a non-military resolution to serious breaches of International Criminal Law. Criminal indictments and prosecutions are slow, tedious and unspectacular procedures. However, the effect on would-be criminals, although incalculable, will undoubtedly be enormous.

In urging other nations to follow the 66 ratifiers, Kofi Annan had this to say: "The best defence against evil will be a court in which every country plays its part. Let us make the International Criminal Court an effective instrument. Let it be a deterrent to the wicked and a ray of hope for the innocent and the hopeless."


Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2002

Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2002, page 16. Some rights reserved.

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