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International Criminal Justice Day: Why Cyprus is Joining the Celebrations

By Ioannis Kasoulides

 

17 July 1998 saw the adoption of the “Rome Statute”, the treaty on the basis of which the International Criminal Court (ICC) came into existence. To mark this milestone as well as the significant gains that have been achieved more broadly in international criminal justice, 17 July has been established as “International Criminal Justice Day.”

Cyprus and I personally proudly join the commemoration of this occasion and the international campaign to underline that “Justice Matters”. Some brief information on the work of the ICC and the ideals it represents should suffice to understand why we have deemed it important to do so.

The ICC is today the only permanent, international criminal court with the competence to prosecute the perpetrators of the gravest of crimes namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Moreover, provided a sufficient number of Member States ratify the relevant amendment to the Rome Statute, the Court will acquire jurisdiction also over the Crime of Aggression. These are all crimes which deeply offend the conscience of humanity.

The roots of the Court can be traced back to at least the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II which were followed, more recently, by the ad hoc and hybrid international tribunals such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. The creation of the ICC was thought by many to be a mission impossible. Yet for the last twelve years it has been tangibly contributing to the advancement of international justice.

As of today, the ICC has 122 Member States whilst more States have expressed their intention to join. Twenty-one cases in eight countries have been brought before the ICC which has rendered its first verdicts. Additionally, a number of other preliminary examinations are being carried out. The Court is also giving a voice to the victims of crimes by providing for their participation in its proceedings.

As is the case with any young institution in pursuit of ambitious goals, the Court has not been without its challenges. And new ones will no doubt arise. A number of challenges have been overcome thanks to the determination and spirit of cooperation that have prevailed amongst all stakeholders in this project. I am convinced that these same qualities shall guide us in addressing existing and future challenges. Our decisions – and this goes especially for us Member States – need to continue promoting the independence, credibility and efficiency of the Court.

Cyprus has been a committed supporter of the Court from its very beginning, a commitment which I reiterate today. I can attribute this to at least three main factors. Firstly, we consider it a moral obligation to promote the accountability for atrocities irrespective of where these are committed. Secondly, we are steadfast supporters of the strengthening of international law as a means to a more just and peaceful international order. And thirdly, the fact that our country itself continues to experience the effects of injustice committed for forty years, renders the mission of the Court even more salient for us.

It is indicative that Cyprus, a Member of the ICC as early as 2002, has been one of the first countries to ratify the amendments to the Rome Statute adopted in Kampala in 2010, including the amendment concerning the Crime of Aggression. Our country has also enjoyed the privilege of contributing one of its best-known judges, Judge Georghios Pikis, who served on the Court between 2003 and 2009. Currently Cyprus is actively engaged in, among other things, the promotion of the universalization and full implementation of the Rome Statute, elements which are vital for the achievement of the Court’s mission. It is our hope that in the time to come more States will be joining us in this collective endeavour.

On International Criminal Justice Day we rightly celebrate the important advances that have been achieved in international criminal justice. But even more work lies ahead. Current events compel us to reiterate our enduring concern at the horrendous crimes still being committed in many parts of the world.

These painfully remind us that justice does matter and that it matters a great deal. This is why I have deemed it important for our country and I to join the commemoration of International Criminal Justice Day.

 

Ioannis Kasoulides is a former Foreign Minister of Cyprus

 

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