When evil-doing comes like falling rain: The long fight for International Justice

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Gordon Kricke (The Philippine Star) - July 11, 2019 - 12:00am

"Death is the solution to all problems. No man – no problem”, this chilling statement is attributed to Josef Stalin, one of the most notorious tyrants in recent history. The man who infamously also said “one death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic”, was hardly the only dictator responsible for mass murder in the last century. Unfortunately serious human rights violation and even genocide and mass murder are not just a thing of the past; they continue to happen in our century.

The “International Justice Day” on July 17 reminds us of the importance of the rule of law and the fight against impunity in international affairs. It is the 21th anniversary of the International Criminal Court which will be celebrated on that day. The first visionary plans to set up an international court to end impunity for the mighty and powerful were discussed already at the end of the 19th century. But in the era of nation states jealously guarding their sovereignty, this proposal had little chance of being implemented. In the aftermath of the crimes committed during the Second World War, this idea was revived in the United Nations soon after its founding, but again it did not materialize.

It was only in the 1990s after the massive breaches of humanitarian international law in the former Yugoslavia and the genocide in Rwanda, that the General Assembly renewed its mandate to the International Law Commission to review the international criminal court project. Germany played an active role in drawing up the Statute. Together with a group of like-minded countries it worked assiduously for an effective, functional, independent and thus credible International Criminal Court. Germany is its largest contributor after Japan and also provides voluntary payments to the Court’s Trust Fund for Victims.

It remains necessary to ensure that the International Criminal Court can work as effectively as possible and that it receives broad support from the international community in the quest for justice and in the fight against impunity. The system of international criminal justice is not perfect, far from it. It can be slow and expensive and unsurprisingly it is often the subject of political controversy. But over the years the International Criminal Court has developed into an important and internationally recognized institution. The Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court, represents a major step towards ending impunity. To ensure that the worst international crimes, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression do not go unpunished and to deter potential perpetrator is a major achievement. As a result, the International Criminal Court sends an important message.

It is the first permanent international court mandated to bring to justice people responsible for serious international crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. Already 122 countries have acceded to the Rome Statute. The International Criminal Court is still in a process of development. Staying power will be required to realize the idea of universal jurisdiction. Even 20 years is not a very long time for a visionary project like this.

A poem of the German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht epitomizes very well the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness of the individual faced with massive oppression and violence:

 “The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence spread.

When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!”

When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.”

This poem was written more than 80 years ago, but it has lost nothing of its validity. State sponsored violence and impunity continue to be a scourge in many parts of the world. Institutions like the International Criminal Court can give some hope for more protection of human rights and the rule of law.

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(Gordon Kricke is the Ambassador of Germany.)

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