"This is when the world's democracies will sit down and take concrete steps to get the court up and running," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "It's the moment we've all been waiting for."
Representatives from all states that have joined the ICC, known as the Assembly of States Parties, will adopt rules to govern the first election of the judges and the prosecutor of the court. It will also approve the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, and the court's first budget.
"The ICC will be the cornerstone of the emerging system of international justice," said Dicker. "The steps taken at this meeting will have an immense impact on how the court functions and what the future will be for justice and human rights worldwide."
Dicker said the election rules should ensure the candidates' highest possible quality and fairest possible representation. He warned against the kind of bargains that have been the hallmark of many United Nations appointments.
"The ICC needs the best-qualified people, men and women, from the broadest range of backgrounds," said Dicker. "We need to find the highest common denominator, not the lowest."
The ICC was created to provide justice for the world's worst crimes -- genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In the past, when national judicial systems failed to punish individuals accused of committing these crimes, those responsible faced no
consequences for their actions. Now, the ICC will provide the victims of the world's atrocities with a place to turn to when national systems fail.
The court is being set up in the midst of a campaign by the United States to undermine the jurisdiction of the ICC by pressuring states all over the world to sign agreements providing U.S. citizens with immunity from the court. The Bush administration's hostility is at strong odds with its allies and friends around the world who support the court and its objectives. Seventy-eight nations have already ratified the Rome Treaty that will govern the court.
"The international community is demonstrating that the court will withstand Washington's irrational campaign to undermine it," said Dicker. "It's shocking that the United States is opposing the creation of this new mechanism for justice."
The ICC treaty was adopted in July 1998 at the end of a Diplomatic Conference in Rome, by a vote of 120 to seven. Before the December 31, 2000 deadline, 139 states signed the treaty. The court will have the authority to prosecute the most serious international crimes that are committed after July 1, 2002. The treaty contains numerous safeguards to screen out any politically motivated cases. More states are expected to ratify the treaty soon in order to participate in the election of judges and the prosecutor early next year.
The court's "Advance Team" is already at work in The Hague creating the technical and administrative infrastructure that the court will need to open in 2003, and to commence investigating its first cases.
For more information on the International Criminal Court, please visit http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/icc/