President’s Statement on the Occasion of the Day of International Criminal Justice

Arusha, The Hague
President Theodor Meron
President Theodor Meron

Today, Judge Theodor Meron, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, issued the following statement to mark the Day of International Criminal Justice:

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda were true pioneers. The first international criminal courts of the modern era, the creation of these Tribunals in the early 1990s reflected the emergence of a new commitment by the international community to ending impunity for serious violations of international law.

But while the Tribunals were undeniably groundbreaking institutions in their own right, the adoption of the Rome Statute on 17 July 1998 reflected an even more profound paradigm shift. Not only did the Rome Statute lead to the establishment of the world’s first permanent international criminal court; it also made clear that the quest for justice and accountability for serious violations of international law is not, and should not be, confined to one city or one court alone.

Indeed, the framework set forth in the Rome Statute envisages that justice and accountability for the worst crimes imaginable can and should be sought not just in The Hague but in countries and courtrooms around the world. It recognizes that ending impunity is a universal imperative and that national engagement is of paramount importance if that goal is to be realized. And it reaffirms, at base, that it is through cooperation and complementarity that the principles of our common humanity can and shall be upheld.

It was a great privilege for me to take part in the negotiations in Rome twenty years ago, and it has been an even greater pleasure to see all that has been achieved in the course of the last two decades. To be sure, the Rome system faces challenges and there is always—as is true with any major institution or complex, multifaceted organization still in the relatively early stages of its development—room for improvement. But we cannot allow perceived imperfections in the Rome system or in international criminal justice more generally to detract from our appreciation of what has already been achieved. And we cannot permit cynicism or scepticism to cause us to lose sight of the sense of purpose that animated the Rome Statute’s adoption and that is no less true today as we mark the twentieth anniversary of that momentous occasion.

Today, we do not celebrate a single court or even a singular international convention. Today, we reaffirm our shared determination to put an end to unimaginable violence committed in contravention of international law, and we reassert our intention to seek—through application of the law and of the highest legal principles that form our common heritage—a more just, more secure, and more peaceful world. That is the global compact that we celebrate today as we mark the Day of International Criminal Justice.