Press Releases

    22 April 2002


    NEW YORK, 19 April (UN Headquarters) -- The following is the text of a statement made today by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the closing of the ninth session of the Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court:

    More than half a century ago, the judges of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg reached the conclusion that "Crimes against international law are committed by men, not abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced."

    But it has taken until now for humanity to act upon that conclusion, and set up a permanent international criminal court.

    Last Thursday, 10 instruments of ratification of the Rome Statute were deposited simultaneously. With one great leap we sailed over, and well past, the threshold of 60 ratifications needed for the Statute to enter into force. That was, indeed, a historic day.

    We now have 66 ratifications of the Statute. Therefore, in accordance with its article 126, the Statute will now enter into force on 1 July 2002.

    This achievement is the fruit of efforts sustained over many decades. We should pay tribute to those who, from the time of the League of Nations onwards, kept the idea alive even when it appeared likely to die from indifference, or worse -– and also to those who revived it after 1989, when the idea of international relations governed by the rule of law began to seem more realistic.

    Sadly, the tide of multilateralism and international cooperation, which flowed so strongly in the first months of the post-cold war era, has since receded somewhat. But the 1990s brought their own grim reminder of the need for international criminal justice, with the terrible crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Those atrocities moved the Security Council to set up the two ad hoc tribunals, building on the principles of Nuremberg and Tokyo.

    The tribunals have advanced boldly into areas of international criminal law never explored before. Yet, because of the limits of time and space imposed on their jurisdiction, they could not altogether escape the charge of selectivity in addressing situations where atrocities had been committed. And this led to an increased demand, throughout the world, for a permanent court that would not confine itself to crimes committed during a particular conflict, but act as a general deterrent.

    The demand was expressed, in the first instance, by civil society in many countries. But States soon took it up. The result was one of the most effective coalitions for change that the world has yet seen.

    And now, with the unusually rapid entry of the Statute into force, we are witnessing a great victory for justice, and for world order -- a turn away from the rule of brute force, and towards the rule of law.

    The advent of the International Criminal Court will not detract from the responsibility of States to prosecute and punish even the worst crimes committed by their own citizens, or within their jurisdiction. Nor will it undermine their ability to do so. As I said in Rome last week, countries with good judicial systems, which apply the rule of law and prosecute criminals promptly and fairly, need not fear. It is where they fail that the Court will step in.

    Thus the Court will give all States a strong incentive to improve their standards. Over time, I believe its practice and procedures will provide a benchmark of international justice, against which the standards of States can be measured. That is why the work you have been doing in this session, on procedures to ensure the election and proper remuneration of judges and a Prosecutor and Registrar who will be independent, fair and impartial, is so important.

    Already, some States have amended their Constitutions, and their criminal and procedural law, to ensure compatibility with the Statute’s provisions. And more generally, the publicity given to the negotiation and ratification processes has been encouraging for civil society in many countries. People are now more likely to insist that those who commit crimes against humanity must not be shielded from prosecution by any high office they hold, or have held in the past.

    You in this Preparatory Commission deserve special praise.

    In your past eight sessions, you have made great progress towards completing your mandate. You have completed an impressive array of drafts to be considered -- and, I hope, adopted -- by the first Assembly of States Parties when it convenes, here at United Nations Headquarters, in early September.

    By the time you hold your tenth and final session in July, the Statute will be in force, and your work will take on even greater urgency. By the end of that session, you will need to have all the various ancillary agreements and documents ready to get the Court running smoothly.

    And I hope that by then all the States Parties -- and indeed all States that intend to become Parties -- will have made their contribution to the trust fund that has been established to cover the expenses of the first meeting of States Parties. You will recall that, under the terms of the General Assembly resolution, the States Parties are required to pay the Secretariat in advance for these expenses. By August 2003, when the Assembly of States Parties holds its fourth meeting, the International Criminal Court should be up and running.

    I hope that by then it will have many more than 66 States Parties. I urge the other 73 States that have signed the Rome Statute to ratify it as soon as possible.

    Indeed, ultimately all States should become parties to the Statute. As I said in Rome last week, the best defence against evil will be a Court in which every country plays its part.

    Stalin allegedly once said: "a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic". I believe, Mr. Chairman, that the process we are now witnessing marks a decisive break with that cynical world view. I believe it is now generally understood that certain crimes, so long as they are left unpunished, cast doubt on the very idea of an international community.

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